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David Hockney

David Hockney paintings and Hockney’s ideas of diffused perspective are inspired by Chinese scrolls and Cubism.

Diffused Perspective

Pearblossom Hwy (1986), is trash! It looks like the trash that is thrown from litterbugs as they drive down the highway. Blue squares that are photographs fall from the sky to the horizon about one-third of the way down. Only a few Joshua trees and street signs jut up into the daytime from the horizon. The road in the center does not advance or approach from a background, rather it falls directly down from the sky to the bottom of the canvas. The trees look hacked to bits and the roadside garbage in the lower left looks sliced and diced by an angry housewife. It’s no Michelangelo. It’s no Raphael. It’s completely faceted trash.

Diffused Perspective in Chinese Scrolls

David Hockney paintings take their lessons from the Chinese… as well as eight-legged creatures of the night. It’s challenging to hang a flipbook or even Goosebumps novella on the walls of the MoMA next to the “Do Not Touch” sign. “The experience of seeing a scroll for the first time is like a revelation. As one unrolls the scroll, one has no idea what is coming next: each section presents a new surprise.” Chinese scrolls are like the famous R. L. Stine horror stories demanding the reader or viewer to move back and forth through the story. Frightening spiders… like Hockney… process many points of view in one comprehended and conceptual image. In Chinese paintings, “…Linear Perspective is not known and instead ‘Diffused Perspective’ is used, which is more conceptional in nature.” Perhaps David Hockney paintings and David Hockney himself don’t share the same eyes of an arachnid but surely process images in a similarly broad method. Hockney has adapted how the Chinese look at the world through the eyes of a spider.

David Hockney Paintings and Cubism

The expansion of Contemporary art in David Hockey’s works is rooted in Cubism as well. Like Chinese art, Cubism is also like looking through a shattered glass eye. “Hockney’s exploration of cubism was complemented by his encounter of Chinese art, in which – he discovered with excitement – the viewpoint was not fixed as it is in Renaissance perspective or a photograph…”. Cubism and Chinese art operate in a fractured way; looking through a broken lens one doesn’t see a fixed viewpoint but a broken and faceted one. In David Hockney paintings traditions of linear perspective in art have been shattered and newer diffused perspective have been installed. “Instead, he absorbed qualities of the Japanese aesthetic that he found most sympathetic […]: elongated pictorial formats, asymmetrical compositions, [and] aerial perspective…” Not only is Hockney’s point of view broken but art history is left in ruins. Hockney crushes and cracks the viewer’s mind.”By breaking objects and figures down into distinct areas – or planes – the artists aimed to show different viewpoints at the same time and within the same space and so suggest their three dimensional form.” Like Cubism, this method of depicting objects gives the viewer a new attitude on how they view and consume the world. Art history and the way people experience the world through their lenses are now as faceted as David Hockney’s paintings.

Hockney, in contrast, accepted that it could be more true to actual experience, because, he believes, we don’t really perceive in the way Renaissance fixed-point perspective presents a scene – nor as a single camera lens projects it. Human beings look from different directions, with two eyes, constantly moving, as we ourselves move around and look, as Hockney puts it, ‘with memory’.” -Gayford

Chinese art and Cubism are apparent in David Hockney paintings in a couple ways. Humans don’t roam the world in a constant “space out” staring at a single point. David Hockney paintings break away from the tradition of Linear Perspective that started in the Renaissance and are replaced with diffused perspective. Renaissance paintings portray a single point at which everything recedes, but people aren’t stuck in such a static trance all their lives. Eve camera-carrying journalists portraying truth in their stories are doing it wrong. Hockney doesn’t believe the single point perspective of a camera lens portrays the world accurately, but rather diffused perspective does. The camera assumed to be the most objective way to capture the world, still has a single lens and a single frame of reference. But Hockney has the solutions to this way of portraying the human sight. Hockney, instead, portrays the world through two eyes and eyes that are constantly moving. Two eyes mean that one image is wrong. Two eyes that are moving mean one point of view and perspective is wrong; diffused perspective is more accurate. David Hockney paintings are using diffused perspective exactly the same way Chinese scrolls and Cubist paintings do.


  • Gayford, Martin. www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/hockneys-world-pictures
  • www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/chhs/hd_chhs.htm
  • www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/jpon/hd_jpon.htm
  • confuciusmag.com/chinese-paintings-western-paintings
  • www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/c/cubism

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Topher is the proud creator and editor of Culture Hog.


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