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An artist’s roots

20 March 2015


"I WANT to broaden things out, not narrow them down." So the artist, in Hockney (BBC2, Saturday), explained the reason behind the reverse perspective with which he experiments: replacing the Western classical vanishing-point, where everything recedes to a single infinity, and depicting instead a world where everything expands, the further it is from the observer.

I was struck, in this feature-length exploration of the artist's life and work, how this least religious of painters leads us on a journey of encounter with the way we perceive and relate to the visible world which is profoundly incarnational.

This was wonderful TV, drawing on a tapestry of archive film; family movies; reminiscences from fellow artists, friends, and sitters; and contributions from Hockey himself. The restless commitment to his art adds up to a remarkable life's work - the whole infused with that opposite of the expectation of an angst-ridden artist: his stuff is witty, he nearly always smiles, and he makes us happy with colour and the deceptive simplicity of line and form.

He has an unusual commitment to his family: its central importance in his life is the very opposite of the romantic artists' determination to be seen as isolated. Despite his eccentricities, he is, in some important sense, like one of us, happy to carry with him his roots and background; for Hockney, one close friend said, "Los Angeles was another Bradford."

This intimate film had for me one weakness: not enough attention was paid to the recent years of return to Yorkshire, the setting up home in Bridlington, and the remarkable flowering of glorious landscape, depicting the Wolds with extraordinary light and form.

Even the bistros are closing. Quelle catastrophe! France with Robert Peston (BBC2, last Friday) was an extrordinary programme. Ostensibly an analysis of our neighbour's economic woes, it was more obviously a love letter to all things Gallic; but, most of all, a bravura performance of sheer weirdness by the BBC's economic editor. It was as though crossing the Channel liberated him from restraint, his words elongated and exaggerated, gestures more expansive and frantic than any Frenchman would allow in public.

The basic thesis was that the generous benefits in France, the huge infrastructure projects, the subsidies in all areas of life, the stifling bureaucracy and insistence on doing everything according to proper custom, have brought it to the verge of bankruptcy. As so often in such cases, it was far stronger on the analysis of the problem than any solution.

A bistro that certainly ought to close was central to last Monday's episode of House of Fools (BBC4), Vic Reeves's and Bob Mortimer's parody of a '70s sitcom. This has now entered a realm of stratospheric lunacy, slapdash in its determination to use material (frequently disgusting) beyond surrealism or absurdity, and post-modernist in its relish of the actual mechanics of studio comedy. Reeves's promotional video for Julie's Bistro was eventually redeemed by the appearance of our heroes riding a giant underpants-eating moth. Just don't ask.

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