Monday, 5 March 2012

A Bigger Picture - David Hockney Exhibition

Now, it does seem as if I'm banging on a bit about David Hockney, but it's a major exhibition of landscape, and I haven't mentioned the actual exhibition yet.

If you've had a look at the BBC film The Art of Seeing, then you'll have seen the exhibition being hung in the Royal Academy, with lots of lovely space where you can stand back from the paintings and contemplate.

However, if you visit the Royal Academy, you will be battling with crowds from the moment you enter the courtyard.  Crowds queueing on the off-chance of a day ticket, crowds going up the stairs, in the entrance hall, through the gift shop, and even with a timed ticket, crowds packing every one of the 13 huge rooms.  It's a physically huge show, with huge, searingly bright paintings, and the heat of huge numbers of people bumbling about trying to look at them and read the labels.  It's exhausting (but worth it), and with 150 paintings on show, it's impossible to talk in depth about any of them here.

The first room has 4 versions of the same group of trees done in the four seasons.  It is painted from memory, and sets the theme of the show - that landscape is all about experiencing a motif through time, that it is something to be moved through and lived through, something basic at the centre of our lives and not something peripheral.  Naturally, as a landscape artist,  that's something I'd endorse - landscape isn't just about trees! 

The next room, with its earlier works, has the simply stunning A Closer Grand Canyon from 1998.  Now, I've been to the Grand Canyon, and this really is the closest thing you'll get to the experience of being there.  

It's a vast, volvanically bright painting on 60 canvasses, and like the real thing, has no focal point and a high horizon which plunges your eyes dizzyingly downwards.  It's just amazing.

Then there are photomontages of the Grand Canyon and the Pearblossom Highway.  Reminding me rather of Rauschenberg's Glut series, these are picaresque patchworks of photographs recording a journey, and the movement through a landscape.

Pearblossom Highway (1986)

Room 3 has Yorkshire landscapes (Hockney's native landscape), but there's no dull greys here.  The Road to York Through Sledmore has red houses, lilac shadows, lime trees and a high horizon, like an urban Grand Canyon.

Roads and fields curve and writhe and undulate like snakes, and the paint is dabbed and combed into shape, as in Garrowby Hill (1998).
Battling past the students armed with sketchpads, Room 4 has watercolours and landscapes from observation.  Here, paintings are hung together in large groups.  Whilst individually, if you popped some of these in a local art show without a Hockney signature, you might be inclined to think "How did that get in?", the cumulative effect here is of a joyous abundance of nature.  There is a lovely sense of the actuality of real places, that you can identify real wheatfields, hedges or clumps of thistles, something which is important in my own work.  It elevates the mundane, that which is normally only glimpsed on the way to something more important.
Room 5 is 'Tunnels', again returning to a single motif through the seasons with some lovely work.
Winter Tunnel with Snow (2006)
Room 6 is Woldgate Woods, where Hockney placed an easel at a particular point amongst the trees and returned to it throughout 2006.  There are some lovely charcoal drawings here, and the denseness of the tree branches in the paintings with little sky, along with the way the paint is applied,  gives a lively surface texture like that of Monet's Waterlilies.
Woldgate Woods, November (2006)

At this point in the exhibition, you are beginning to wonder how many rooms are left, and how to pace yourself, but in fact you are only about half way through - so that's where I'm leaving it for today!

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