‘Spring Cannot Be Cancelled’ Review: Painting Out of the Pandemic

The painter David Hockney and the critic Martin Gayford have been friends for 25 years. Mr. Gayford writes that their friendship was largely “led remotely via email, phone calls, the occasional package, and a steady stream of pictures arriving in my inbox almost daily.” When they meet again “after months or even years”, their conversation “continues as if there had been no interruption”, with the exception of “a constant, almost imperceptible change of perspective”.

Messrs Hockney and Gayford were better prepared than most of us for the distancing, interruptions, and shifts in perspective that came with the Covid-19 pandemic. “Spring Cannot Be Canceled” is Mr. Gayford’s warm, intelligent, and quietly inspiring account of what Mr. Hockney is up to. It is also a reminder of the love in the Covid era: friendship and a shared passion for art.

In late 2018, Mr Hockney announced to Mr Gayford that he is about to go to France. In Honfleur on the Normandy coast, he and his assistants are overwhelmed by a three-hour sunset: “It was like van Gogh’s paintings: you could see everything very clearly.” When Mr. Hockney drove through the countryside to Paris, he had an idea: “Maybe I could make the arrival of spring here in Normandy.” The next day, he buys a farm, La Grande Cour, a “heavy building” with barns, fruit trees and a tree house on the premises. In January 2019, Mr. Hockney moves in and local workers are converting a barn into his studio. In March 2019, the “stream of images” will resume in Mr. Gayford’s inbox.

The painter was attracted to La Grande Cour not only by the French light or the spiritual society of Van Gogh and Braque who painted in the region, or even because Mr. Hockney finds a smoker, “Sybarit” and “Enthusiast of Bohemian society” ” France “much more smoker-friendly than mean England. “Mr. Hockney has been famous for 60 years. Mr. Gayford writes that he longs for the” isolation van Gogh experienced in his little yellow house in Arles, surrounded by his subject and able to focus fully on it to draw.”

When Mr Gayford visits, he stays on a nearby farm: the renovations on La Grande Cour do not include a guest room. “I think I’m on the verge of something, a different way of drawing is coming through,” says Mr. Hockney. “I couldn’t do it anywhere else: in London, Paris, New York. You have to be like this somewhere. “Mr. Gayford is reminded of Braque’s remark to a fellow artist:” I’m in the middle of my canvases like a gardener among his trees. “

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