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If you don’t know Hockney this Tate Britian exhibition is your chance to start

Tate Britain’s huge retrospective on David Hockney that’s just opened shows the artist’s great skill of reaching out to people using art, writes Alan Kenny

Issue No. 2542

Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) 1971, by David Hockney

Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) 1971, by David Hockney (Pic: David Hockney)


Tate Britain is hosting “the world’s most extensive retrospective” of artist David Hockney’s work—that should be a tantalising prospect for those familiar with him.

It is also a fantastic opportunity for those who have never seen a Hockney painting.

The Royal Academy’s 2015 exhibition A Bigger Picture was a tremendous display of Hockney’s recent landscapes.

But this exhibition shows a much fuller variety of the work he has created across his 60-year career.

The second room in the exhibition, Demonstrations of Versatility, shows some very interesting early paintings from 1960-61.

Two of them, We Two Boys Together Clinging and Cleaning Teeth, Early Evening (10pm) W11, are particuarly worth seeing. They depict gay male relationships five and six years before homosexuality was decriminalised in Britain.

The style of these paintings seems to prefigure Jean Michel Basquiat’s work of some 20 years later.

In room four the Sunbather displays are perhaps some of Hockney’s most well-known pieces—1967’s A Bigger Splash and 1966’s Peter Getting Out of Nick’s Pool.

Peter Schlesinger was Hockney’s one-time partner and features in several other paintings and drawings.

Exciting

It’s clear that it is in this period that Hockney truly develops his exciting colour palette. This was inspired by his love for the Los Angeles scenery, where he first moved in 1964.

His wonderful large dual portraits are also on show. They include one of novelist Christopher Isherwood and his partner Don Bachardy that’s never been on display in Britain. One of Hockney’s great skills is to create an intense dynamic between the two subjects in each of these paintings.

Experimentation with form and technology is seen in his early 1980’s Polaroid composites—The Scrabble Game is particularly endearing.

There’s a room of Hockney’s brilliantly coloured landscapes in California and Yorkshire, all painted with his remarkable vibrancy.

Rooms 10 and 11 are a welcome reprieve of the A Bigger Picture exhibition, including the hypnotic The Four Seasons films.

The exhibition closes with a selection of his iPad drawings. These are probably his most divisive pictures, but it’s hard not to admire his attempt to engage with new technology.

These drawings also allow us the opportunity to appreciate Hockney’s dedication alongside his great technical skill.

Several of the screens show layer upon layer of different types of mark gradually building up. Through showing the technique we are given a glimpse of the many hours of work put into the paintings.

Hockney is so capable of reaching out to people with art. It was therefore disappointing that he took up the offer of redesigning the masthead of the Sun newspaper.

Groups such as the Total Eclipse of the Sun, which campaigns against the bigoted rag, need to reach out to artists in every field to extend their campaign.

This exhibition will be a smash hit. Hockney seems to be only growing in popularity—and it’s deserved.

David Hockney is at Tate Britain until 27 May, go to tate.org.uk and support the union at Tate at bit.ly/2l6EWdN

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Tue 21 Feb 2017, 16:59 GMT
Issue No. 2542
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