This week’s wall photo is an image I snapped on my iphone of an original David Hockney ipad/iphone “Drawing” projected onto the wall in Salt’s Mill, in Saltaire near Bradford. I was nearly bursting with excitement at being in Salt’s Mill at a time when Hockney and I could synchronize our Apples – Hockney, Bradford, Apple and I go back a long way.
In the mid 80s, when I was at school, I loved Hockney’s art – his swimming pool paintings and California scapes in particular – and painted quite a few similar ones myself during my A-level art. Then, in the late 80s, as part of my human geography degree, my course-mates and I spent a week in Bradford, Hockney’s Home Town, examining how such an important and proud Northern industrial town was coping with the demise of manufacturing and the coming of the new “post-industrial society” and the rise of the “service” society. One beautiful evening we stood on a hill overlooking Saltaire and looked down at the imposing, but empty, Salt’s Mill and pondered it’s future. I was a knitting addict even then and was sad to see such a landmark textile mill standing idle.
Salt’s Mill was built in 1853 by a Sir Titus Salt – he built the giant mill and a whole village to house his workers – away from the wretched conditions in Bradford – he named it Saltaire after himself and the River Aire. As well as houses, he provided civic facilities for his workers – church, park, schools etc. The village of Saltaire now a living UNESCO world heritage site. Again, I am forever grateful of the philanthropic work of our industrial fathers who didn’t just take their money and pile it up for themselves.
Luckily for Salt’s Mill, a local entrepreneur and business man called Jonathan Silver bought the Mill in 1987 and planned to turn it into a gallery – with generous support in the form of “art” to hang on it’s large walls from his pal Hockney.
My first encounter with a computer of any kind came in 1990 when I myself was in Los Angeles (as was Hockney by that time!). I was doing my Masters in geography and my Husband – a connoisseur of early computers – bought me the first Apple Mac Classic – oh how cute and wonderful that thing was – the iphone is not nearly as amazing as that thing was at the time.
So, this spring, en-route from Scotland to the South of England, we made a detour to visit Saltaire and to see Hockney’s digital doodles – the ipad images were indeed gorgeous and I cannot conceive how he did them; but, his giant portraits of friends and family “drawn” in Photoshop were mind-blowing, with a level of skill simply beyond comprehension – and he’s in his eighties.
I really thought I was in heaven – soaking up everything that pre- now post-industrial cathedral had to offer – giant walls dripping with Hockney’s, beautiful brick vaulted ceilings, amazingly ornate Victorian cast-iron radiators and the vast interior space filled with antique sofas for lounging and antique desks piled high with arty books for browsing – swoon.
Saltaire and the Mill are still alive and doing well, albeit in the service sector. What everyone seems to forget – is that we can’t all work in the service sector – if we all work in a coffee shop – who is going to buy the coffee? Someone has to actually make or manufacture something for an economy to survive long-term. What would really make me happy would be to see the old Mill operating as a cooperative churning out gorgeous wool and woollens and providing hundreds of well-payed jobs for skilled artisans – maybe in thirty years time it will – or perhaps each “cottage” in Saltaire will house a practising artisan and his/her family – making their living from small-scale “manufacturing”.
If you are ever anywhere near Bradford, you must visit Saltaire, and allow plenty of time and maybe leave your kids at home – mine liked it for an hour or two but I could have spent the day. The Hockney digital art exhibition is still on and there is currently a new exhibition called “wool re-fashioned” which looks great too.