Notes on David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture @ Royal Academy of Arts

David Hockney RA - Winter Timber (2009)

David Hockney RA – Winter Timber (2009)

I was very excited to be seeing this exhibition which surely must rank as one of the most successful Royal Academy exhibitions ever.

It would seem that “A Bigger Picture” has completely divided the critics but the truth is that this is a body of work for the people, not the critics and the thing that hits home about this show is its phenomenal success with the public.

Now in the closing stages the Royal Academy have been keeping their doors open until midnight this past week to pack in the last of the crowds. And while not open quite as late, the Hockney exhibition, which ends on Easter Monday, has extended hours for its final few days, with the gallery open until 22.00 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

When I went along to see “A Bigger Picture” a couple of weeks ago I really did think that some of the hype and hysteria surrounding the show would have subsided and that I could have just walked in. How wrong could I have been, I was completely unprepared for the long queues which snaked their way around the RA courtyard, several hours long, and which apparently were continuous at all times of day and night. In order to short circuit the system I opted to take out annual membership, thereby gaining instant admission.

With this exhibition David Hockney has been granted a unique opportunity by the Royal Academy, the likes of which I doubt has previously been given to an artist, living or dead in it’s entire history. The entire space of the eleven galleries, mostly specifically themed, is given over to this vast collection of 150 plus works, showcasing and celebrating the artist’s representation of the landscape of his home county Yorkshire, with a particular focus on the Yorkshire Wolds, alongside selected earlier works.

The energy and exuberance of Hockney and the love of his subject is evident from the outset. Starting In the first gallery, with four very large seasonal paintings of a group of trees near Thixendale, these all near-identical multi-panel works, where only the seasons change, with their scale and intensity give a promise of great things to come.

Moving on to a room featuring some of his earlier works, including the enigmatic “Flight into Italy: That’s Switzerland That Was” and the brilliant and vibrant “Grand Canyon”there were a couple of very early paintings which being out of time seemed also lost and very out of place in this exhibition. A further gallery offered up a mixed selection of earlier landscapes and I was particularly happy to see “Pearblossom Highway” from 1986

David Hockney RA - Pearblossom Highway - 1986

David Hockney RA – Pearblossom Highway – 1986

Going on from room to room I was continuously overwhelmed and immersed in Hockney’s saturated colour space. A techicolour world bursting with bright pinks and magenta and populated with giant trees, hawthorn blossoms, flowers and weeds, and endless fields rolling into the distance, all bathed in various tones of acid greens.

David Hockney RA - A Closer Winter Tunnel February - March 2006

David Hockney RA – A Closer Winter Tunnel February – March 2006

One gallery was given over to his video experiment, shot in 9d from a rig of 9 video cameras mounted on the front of a Land Rover, each focusing on a slightly different area of Woldgate and the whole displayed in high resolution on 27 giant screens in a 9 x 3 formation. The subtly different shifting scenes slowly unfolding were hard to take in but they had one effect in that they did make one look harder.

The big surprise was the room full of the iPad pictures which despite their lack of extreme detail worked rather well, and while up close many seemed to dissolve and disintegrate before the eyes from a distance they appeared exquisitely rendered. There is a series of 52 of these on display and it is all too easy for some critics to dismiss these works as not being up to par but what Hockney has achieved with Brushes, the software costing a few pounds which he adopted very early on in 2008, and his finger and a stylus is remarkable, without even taking into consideration the fact that this is a man in his mid seventies.

David Hockney RA - The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 - 2 January Ipad Drawing on paper

David Hockney RA – The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 – 2 January Ipad Drawing on paper

This is an artist who has gone out there, again and again, stood in the middle of the landscape that he so loves, regardless of the weather to observe the scenery of his childhood and captured the textures and colours in his own unique way. With a career spanning more than 50 years and always keen to embrace new technology A Bigger Picture is ample proof as to why David Hockney is considered to be one of the most influential contemporary British artists ever, and the constant stream of visitors to see this remarkable show is testament to the love and affection that the British public have for him. The people have spoken.

‘David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture’ is accompanied by a lavish and fully illustrated 304 page catalogue With an introduction by Marco Livingstone, and a number of essays it explores the artist’s involvement with landscape painting in the context of Hockney’s magnificent career.

Images copyright David Hockney RA

David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture
Extended opening hours at Royal Academy of Arts until 9 April 2012


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