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looking at the world

October 18, 2009

[NYTimes] It was a brilliantly sunny autumn day in East Yorkshire, and the artist David Hockney was taking me for a drive through the countryside. “What it is I’m going to show you is an alleyway of trees,” he said in his gruff Yorkshire burr as he turned his open-topped Audi roadster off the one-lane road into an even narrower byway bordered by swaying beech, sycamore and ash trees. “When I moved up here, I recognized this is really very rare and beautiful.”

Because Mr. Hockney has been going deaf since his early 40s, he tends toward opinionated monologues, often delivered as he gesticulates with a cigarette. But at 72, even with hearing aids in both ears, he remains lively, gregarious and enthusiastic — especially when it comes to looking at the world, thinking about the world and making art out of what he sees.

As we drew close to the trees, he fretted over the sun’s position. “The lighting is made for going the other way,” he complained. Then he slowed down so we had time to appreciate each tree individually, and began issuing orders about how to look.

“Watch!” he called out. “The ash tree now comes in — look at the shape of it! And now then on the right, another tree. There’s a point where each one stands on its own. There. Now. It’s surrounded by sky. Now the next one, and it stands on its own. You see?” It was as though he were giving director’s notes.

Eventually the trees grew small behind us, and Mr. Hockney’s clear blue eyes, shielded by a white linen cap, turned back to the road. (read)

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