Hollywood Hills' adopted son David Hockney is notoriously hard to get close to. He shuns the spotlight these days in a way that he never used to when he was the bad boy of British art, preferring instead the close comfort of his trusted friends and faithful dogs. And yet with the launch of his Royal Academy exhibition in London, A Bigger Picture, Hockney has never been more accessible. You just need to know where to look.
When I found out that Hockney had returned to his native Yorkshire and was starting to paint in the Wolds I was intrigued. The Wolds are a rolling Yorkshire Dales like landscape, full of hidden valleys and out-on-their-own villages. Agricultural and less commercial than their celebrated Western peers, they are a forgotten part of Yorkshire between York and the coast that modern roads bypass on their way to fish, chips and mushy peas. Ask most people in Britain if they have heard of the Yorkshire Wolds and they will say no. For people living in the Wolds, all that is about to change, because in a few weeks time when the fanfare announcing the arrival of Hockney’s exhibition has dissipated the Wolds will be known the world over. Their influence on his new body of work is that intense.
And so, I’m proud to say if there was a Hockney Hunting club I would have membership number 001 because for the last 12 months I have been searching out the Wolds locations that Britain’s greatest living painter has been before me. Hockney might choose to sketch and paint in quiet isolation, but with a little detective work you too can stand where his easel once stood and enjoy his company.
Hockney says he gets intense pleasure from his eyes and the first rule of Hockney Hunting is to follow the Master and scan the skyline. Look at the trees in particular. Trees are not a natural part of the Wolds landscape, they come in clumps, they stand together as outsiders among the fields and dry, green valleys. In winter they appear like frozen florets of coral, in spring and then summer their boughs hang heavy. The trees drew Hockney in. He noticed them and returned to them time and again in his new works. The second rule of Hockney Hunting is to take your time. Drive slowly. Stop and peer over hedgerows at the landscape ahead. The Wolds will roll ahead of you for miles in every direction. Search for small, single track roads. Roads that in winter are covered in wet leaves and forgotten frosts. These are where Hockney likes to hide. Armed with these tips a weekend in the Wolds becomes a treasure hunt.
Hockney might choose to sketch and paint in quiet isolation, but with a little detective work you too can stand where his easel once stood and enjoy his company.
First stop for all Hockney hunters is the historic chocolate box village of Warter. Location of probably the most famous of his recent landscape works, The Bigger Trees (which were chopped down) and Bigger Trees Near Warter (which are still standing). The latter is his Grand Canyon of the Wolds in terms scale and they visible on the horizon, on a hill above the village (head east, down the hill from the cenotaph keeping the church on your left, out of Warter and take the second turning right, the trees dominate at the brow of the hill ahead). The house Hockney captured in the painting too provides the proof that you are in the right spot.
From there, head north from Warter just 10 miles across classic Wolds roads, wide with thick verges and ancient hedgerows you can also capture the site of Three Trees near Thixendale. A beautiful spot in any weather, warmer in winter at the valley bottom and buzzing with birds and butterflies come the summer (from the village centre head out on the road past the cricket pitch keeping it on your lefthandside, the trees split two fields on your left after about half a mile.) Hockney placed his easel at the side of the road to paint and it’s the perfect spot to lay a picnic blanket and refuel before heading east again towards the golden triangle of Hockney Hunting, Kilham (A Closer Winter Tunnel series of paintings), Woldgate (Winter Timber, Totem, Woldgate Woods) and Bridlington his seaside home when not in Los Angeles. He returned time and again to these spots to paint, sketch on his i-pad and film with a car laden with cameras. It’s a rich area for Hockney fans and, if you know where and how to look, the landscapes he captures are instantly recognisable.
However, like all treasures, part of the pleasure is in the finding. Helpfully, Hockney and the Yorkshire tourist board, Welcome to Yorkshire, are in the process of compiling a trail to aid those aficionados of his art to follow in his footsteps and discover the untouched beauty of this uncluttered and formerly unfashionable part of Yorkshire. All that is sure to change.
For a Brit, Hockney is probably most famous for his swimming pool paintings of Los Angeles and his landscapes of America. Yorkshire has merely been a by product of his birth. But not anymore. His home county is about to reclaim him for themselves in a monumental way. Say goodbye to Hollywood Mr Hockney, you’re coming home and this time, it’s for good.
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