Friday, 17 February 2012

David Hockney exhibition 'A Bigger Picture' at the Royal Academy, London

WOW! What an amazing exhibition. Right from the start the visitor has an over powering sense of positivity – it's as if Hockney has brought all the colour of California that he loves back to old England and washed the grey away with it.

The tree is his central motif, running through the whole exhibition, and the landscape of his Yorkshire youth is the subject. The first rooms lay the background for Hockney's new paintings, showing how from his earliest works he was interested in landscape painting.

His photocollages – the term conjures up school art projects but these are slick use of modern technology - clearly show how he builds up and later portrays wide panoramic views. Later paintings, almost na├»ve in style, show the patterns of fields and hedges, ploughed surfaces, houses and lines of hedges and trees. In these all traditional perspective is skewed and the sky is reduced to form a thin strip quite unlike the proportion usually adhered to in a classical landscape painting.

However, in the next room Hockney reverts to a study of the style of the old masters – the paintings hung en masse in a block - and here the classic proportions hold sway. After studying these in oil he returns to watercolour – the effect quite different of course.

A room devoted to his interest in 'tunnels' shows masterly perspective and one devoted to 'woods' is truly architectural in feel. I loved his charcoal sketches displayed in these rooms because they show his ability as a real draughtsman and how he used these quick sketches to work from – giving rein to his imagination - on the final oil paintings in his studio.

Throughout, Hockney demonstates how he has divided his large panoramas into separate 'blocks' to build up the whole. Allied with this is his use of the camera. But this is not to be sniffed at – he is merely reflecting history. The old masters used such tricks as the camera obscura to perfect their perspective and divided their canvases up in much the same way as Hockney does. The difference is that Hockney leaves us the signs.

The hangings entitled 'Trees & Totems' is a culmination of all that has gone before. These are painted in such vibrant colour that they have quite an electrifying, exuberant effect. The show was packed, so many visitors that we were forced into closer proximity than normal and this produced it's own dynamic: a woman next to me turned and said – unable to contain herself, wanting to share her feelings – "It's so exciting, so life-affirming, isn't it?" I had to agree.

His painting, 'The Arrival of Spring', is vast and very graphic in traditional Hockney style. It was produced after many sketches on his ipad and, hung all around, these form the basis for the final work. What a marvellous use of modern technology and what a wonderful tool it is – the 'brushes' facility is not technology subsuming the artist but technology aiding him - able to sketch quickly using the tablet is a bonus in such changeable weather as ours.

In a couple of rooms near the end of the exhibition there is film to show how Hockney engineered the recording of the landscape – concentrating on the close-up of the grasses and the hedges and lanes, it made me think of Thomas Hardy's novels - and a collection of his sketchbooks gives a fascinating insight.

Throughout, Hockney is celebrating the English countryside - it is landscape with a capital L – and those well trod lanes and hedges, tree lined fields and pitted roads that we all know in our locality take on a new persona – a different character – when we use his vision. With this show, Hockney has introduced a fresh way of looking at them for many of us – these landscapes are not all boring brown and grey in winter, not all the same old green in summer.

Do see this exhibition for yourself: it is COLOUR, it is TREES, it is BRILLIANT!