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David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture

Critics' choice
Courtesy of the Artist, Copyright David Hockney, Photo Credit Richard Schmidt
David Hockney, Woldgate Woods, 21, 23 & 29 November 2006

Contrary to expectation, this exhibition of landscapes by art's nattiest northerner (interviewed here) does include one of his famed swimming pools. Tucked in the left-hand corner of David Hockney's 'Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio', a photographic reproduction of a vast 1980 painting (in the collection of LA County Museum), the watery rectangle offers a moment of calm on a bumpy ride across a stridently decorative California.

It's a pit stop, of sorts, in a room of 'Earlier Landscapes' that records what in turn seems like a flight – from dull, constricting Blighty to the delirious possibilities offered by the West Coast. Just nine years separate 'Bolton Junction, Eccleshill' (1956), an earnest spikily modernist street scene painted when Hockney was a teenager, and 'Rocky Mountains and Tired Indians' (1965), a crystalline abstract/figurative ode to the New World made, with all the wit and ingenuity we associate with classic Hockney, a year after he settled in Los Angeles. It feels like decades.

Hockney: the golden boy who got away. That this exhibition fails to continue in full retrospective mode initially disappoints. Yet, in focusing on works made in the Yorkshire Wolds during the past eight years, the show offers a different, more complex experience than might be offered by a straightforward survey; one that stirs up all sorts of questions about progression, about our relationship with the past, with art history, ideas of Britishness, legacy, youth and old age – and let's not forget that in Royal Academy terms, at 74, Hockney is a mere stripling.

One answer – that we never really escape our roots – resonates due to such a sustained focus on ostensibly similar subjects from Hockney's home turf. With pencil, brush, or, these days, iPad in hand, the artist approaches a clutch of motifs including Woldgate Woods and a 'tunnel' of trees near Kilham in the East Riding, with the sustained energy of an obsessive. So many paths through the forest, with their promise of a Heideggerian clearing. What is he hoping to find?

These are, in one sense, introspective pictures. The tree stump, a substitute figure, is a lonely presence in a series of 'Winter Totems'. And yet there's no real melancholy in evidence. Hockney's use of colour, as stridently, jubilantly bright as you could wish for in grey winter, sees to that. As does his humour, which, along with his mid-Atlantic accent, crops up in the Samuel Palmer-meets-Wayne Thiebaud, part-topiary, part-patisserie world of his hawthorns, heavy with blossom. Grown swollen and comic, nature clowns around for the artist who nudges it just the right side of madcap.

You don't get to paint serial, seasonal views of anywhere without coming up against some stiff art historical competition. At his best – in the eight-panel, four-season views of Thixendale trees that open the show – Hockney is no one but himself and a match for anyone. His invention is less explicit than it was 50 years ago; which is to say that the paintings lull you into thinking that they are less exceptional than they are.

Doing just enough to make an image coalesce, Hockney is the master painter-editor. It's a skill you wish he had extended to the exhibition as a whole. There's too much to take in here, a touch of the TV showroom about his bank of high-definition videos which, leading us up and down country lanes we've already travelled, seem superfluous. And too much iPadding.

When you start to lose a sense of the artist's touch, as you do in the grandiose installation of 32-panel painting and 51 scaled-up iPad prints that constitute 'The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty-eleven)', you feel, despite the merits of Hockney's drive to fuse the new with old, that technology still trails the hand. He says more with a stick of charcoal and a piece of paper – in the smaller picture.

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Emonk

Great spread of prolific work. But....rammed (8.30 on a thursday) to the point of it being uncomfortable. Couldn't really see many of the pics.. Perhaps reviewers should go along on a public night?..get the whole picture, or in this case, half of the picture obscured by hundreds of other people ; )

Anne Counsell

fabulous love ,im smtmim w u cambridge love to be the next headmaster views like that tunnel are scrumtious and so ethereal ammc andi

Tom

A breath of Yorkshire air! These days it seems daring and innovative for a famous working artist to personally paint or draw attractive subjects with mass appeal as opposed to just directing others to manufacture obtuse installations contrived to shock. It is easy to simply like these paintings of the countryside; but there is more going on than them just being pretty. The exhibition gives a sense of how this latest phase of work is connected to what preceeded it and how Hockney continues to explore and experiment with ways of representing what he sees. The interconnected sight-lines of the gallery provide teasers for what is round the corner literally and figuratively, and reminders of the path to the set of pictures you are currently standing amongst. See it while you still can!

Cal

Wonderful exhibition that completly engulfs you. from room to room you find mildly varying subjects that instead change with the season or the media in which they are portrayed. The result is a magnificent display of art that shows how much of a genius Hockney is, and a subject depth that you will rarely see. One of the best exhibitions I have ever seen and more than worth a look.

Beau

Some beautiful things but the monstrously large orange, green and purple landscapes with giant spaghetti are quite ugly. And the sermons on the mount. And the hawthorne paintings, like congealed white puddings. The I-pad ones are lovely, and the photo collage of the Grand Canyon, as well as many of the smaller paintings, and the sketchbooks. But the garish monster ones kept punching me painfully in the eyes. Hot, stuffy, packed exhibition -- if you suffer from even mild claustrophobia it's not worth the effort.

Estee

I loved the way he placed everything with so much care to detail. I loved the vastness and his joy for life which really comes through in everything he does. He speaks on the audio roar as well. I just want to move in to the royal academy and live in this installation- and then maybe i would become performance art!

Cherry

I smiled almost all the way around this exhibition, thankyou Mr Hockney. Wonderful lush greens, soft hills, pops of campion, silhouettes and froths of cow parsley in quiet secret peaceful places. I am a little bias having spent a good deal of my life living in and constantly revisiting our chalky wolds but thoroughly recommend a view to all. A little uncertain about the sermon on the mount and sorry but your mayflowers didn't work for me, however in the 'bigger picture' it was great, I felt hugged by the hugeness of it all.

Sophie

I went in to the exhibition rather indifferent to Hockney but ended it a massive fan. It was such a colourful, uplifting show - an unpretentious, uncynical celebration of the English countryside. The rooms dedicated a single theme made a huge impact, and were a pleasure to be immersed in. My only criticisms would be that there's SO MANY pieces on show - the ones of America and people at the end felt a bit unnecessary.

gallerista

Really worth seeing. But I recommend starting at the video room towards the end of the exhibition, checking out the moving images across a whole wall first, then the sketchbooks and ipads and then retracing one's steps to the other rooms. Cumulatively the work here grows on you. My favourite room was the seasonal panorama with prints made from ipad images and the Yosemite prints also generated from ipad. What a wonderful draftsman Hockney is and a wonderful colourist too.