Secret Knowledge


How to paint like a photograph

Follow artist David Hockney as he chases a ridiculous idea: the reason why Dutch masters, beginning with Vermeer, could paint so uncannily photographically was that they were using lenses secretly. Hockney chronicles his research step by logical step, and the seeming outrageous looks more and more reasonable. The theme is that art is governed by technology. “Yet there is a hand inside the camera,” Hockney claims. By hacking up crude lenses and optical mirrors, using color copiers, photoshoping images, and filling walls with digital prints, Hockney turns art into detective work. In the design of this book, Hockney elevates his astonishing research into a work of art itself. This is one of the best books about art ever, and one of the best books of art ever.

These photographs show the process in more detail. At the top left you can see the projection on the paper as I make my initial marks, the two stages of which you can see top right. After making the measurements, I take down the paper and complete the drawing from life. The subject, who sits outside throughout, can see very little of what is going on in the room. He is not even aware that the mirror is there. I have been told by some art historians that there are written accounts of similar set-ups in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but as yet I have not located them.

01/20/04 --