Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Saltaire.
This West Yorkshire village is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and home to an awesome art gallery at the former textile factory, Salts Mill. Like colour? You’re going to love this.
I’d never been to Saltaire, but the folk at Stylecraft organised a visit as part of our recent Blogstars meetup. We arranged to meet at the mill, specifically at the 1853 gallery, which is home to a large collection of David Hockney’s artworks. See? I told you this post would be colourful.
More on Hockney in a moment.
Since I know that half of you are reading this from outside the UK, here’s a mini-guide to Saltaire. Once upon a time way back in the 19th century, when Queen Victoria reigned, when top hats were tall and workers’ lives were short, a handful of rich industrialists decided that letting their employees languish in festering slums wasn’t great. So a few of them built ‘model villages’ for their workers. Nope, these weren’t tiny toy towns constructed of Lego, but well-built new suburbs with facilities for health and education. Saltaire was one such place, built in 1851 by Sir Titus Salt, who was a pretty big cheese in the woollen textile industry. Sir T. constructed a brand spanking new mill (Salts Mill), surrounded by smart stone houses, a hospital, alms-houses, and a bathhouse. He was a decent chap, ol’ Titus, though rather reserved, by all accounts.
Salts Mill closed in 1986, but has since been renovated and returned to use, in part as the 1853 gallery. Hockney’s painting of the building is hung proudly inside:-
Shall we have a look around? The Stylecraft people and the Salts Mill people had very kindly arranged a private tour, just for us. Hurrah! And what a cool space for a gallery:-
David Hockney (who has just turned 80, by the way), was originally a local boy. Yeah, he moved away and established himself in London and California and created all those famous swimming pool paintings, but his roots were in Bradford, and so it makes sense that this gallery, on the edge of Bradford, should be mostly an homage to his work. (Also, the renovation of the mill was the work of Hockney’s friend, Jonathan Silver.) He initially studied locally, although I use the word studied loosely, because his ‘tactical idleness’ involved focusing only on his painting and drawing, whilst ignoring written assignments. Fortunately his artwork was so good that even the Royal College of Art bent its rules to allow him to graduate. Don’t try this at home, kids.
He was no slouch when it came to learning his craft, however, and was a staunch supporter of the need to learn traditional ‘academic drawing’ before branching off into the stylised or experimental. You can’t argue with his ability to render people:-
One of the things he liked to play with was our Western interpretation of perspective:-
If you wander around, you’ll see sides to Hockney’s work that you – or at least, I – didn’t know existed. I like to think that there’s a wry humour in the ready-made complete art collection he created, inspired by the fashion for anyone-who-was-anyone in 1960s California to collect art. Look, it covers all the bases: there’s a portrait, a landscape, an abstract, and so on…
And although he’s best-known for his acrylics and his oils, he’s long experimented with any medium that he can get his hands on. Back when smartphones and tablets were a new thing and their design software was unsophisticated, Hockney got busy on-screen:-
And when he was asked for a piece of art for the opening of the 1853 gallery, he faxed one over, sheet by sheet, and it was reassembled in situ. Cool, no?
But I’m saving my personal favourites until last. In the 1990s, Hockney started returning more frequently to Yorkshire, to visit his parents and friends. And at last, he was persuaded to paint his native surroundings. As a lover of landscape and colour, I’m entranced.
Honestly, I could have spent hours more in there.
A huge thank you to the staff at 1853 and at Stylecraft for organising this wonderful trip for us.