Socialist Worker

A Bigger Picture: David Hockney’s joy-filled and life affirming landscapes

Judith Orr looks at how a Pop Art veteran uses old and new media to capture the countryside

Issue No. 2291

If an exhibition of landscape paintings may not sound like your cup of tea then think again.

After David Hockney’s wonderful new exhibition you will never look at the English countryside in quite the same way. This, he says, was precisely his intention.

Hockey made his name in the late 1950s and early 1960s as part of the Pop Art movement. Originally from Bradford, he moved to Los Angeles in 1964 and settled there.

But eight years ago he moved back to Bridlington in Yorkshire after several decades of living and working in California. His new Royal Academy show focuses on his work since then.

Titled David Hockney: A Bigger Picture, the exhibition is full of luscious pinks, brilliant oranges and steely blues—and much of it on a grand scale.

Hockney has always been an artist who embraced new technology in his work. In this exhibition is one of his large Californian pieces from 1986 made up of Polaroid photos.

Today Hockney’s new tool is his iPad touchscreen computer. He uses it to make sketches and help him organise his giant oil paintings. These are made up of sometimes dozens of different panels painted individually.

But the use of technology does not always guarantee success. A wall of printed and framed iPad sketches comes across as twee and banal.

Other more traditional paintings also misfire. One room of canvases tries to capture hawthorne bushes in full blossom. They look more as if Yorkshire had experienced an invasion of giant caterpillars.

But at the heart of the exhibition are massive oil paintings of the trees, lanes and fields of the Yorkshire where Hockney grew up, composed like a jigsaw from panels of canvas.

We see the same copse of trees in four different seasons, or the same lane at different times of the day, the scene transformed by lengthening shadows and shifting light.

Exuberant

Hockney’s landscape painting is dynamic and exuberant. Nature is constantly changing—and sometimes it seems as though Hockney can’t paint fast enough to keep up.

His use of technology has proved controversial in some quarters. I saw one irate woman berating a gallery attendant in a room where several works are displayed on iPads.

“Why does he not just use a sketch pad?” she asked.The attendant tried to explain that Hockney did indeed use sketch pads too. But she didn’t want to listen to him.

In fact Hockney shows himself keen to use every medium possible. There are oil paintings of logs first drawn, appropriately, in charcoal. There are watercolours and digital video compositions.

All this constantly reminds you that the world can’t be seen as one definitive image.

Almost as an afterthought the show includes Hockney’s new paintings of Yosemite national park, one of North America’s last great wildernesses.

Painted on the iPad and enlarged to giant proportions, these convey a sense of awe at monumental landscapes that are on an entirely different scale to the English country lanes.

Some critics have been snooty about Hockney’s latest enthusiasms—but this exhibition shows it to be joyous and life affirming art.

David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture is on at the Royal Academy of Arts, London W1, until 9 April. Full price admission is £14. For more details go to www.royalacademy.org.uk


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Tue 21 Feb 2012, 18:24 GMT
Issue No. 2291
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