David Hockney Scales Up At Royal Academy

David Hockney: A Bigger Picture – REVIEW

So here it is. The first major blockbuster exhibition of 2012, and the event kicking-off the London Cultural Olympiad – David Hockney: A Bigger Picture at the Royal Academy of Arts. Bringing together over 150 works, the majority of which have been created in the last 8 years, this is a sumptuously buttery, paint-still-wet show, that imbues Yorkshire hills with the geographical drama and cut-glass light of California – the artist’s home for so many years.

In 1964, as a young artist, Hockney had left his Yorkshire home for Los Angeles desirous of that Hollywood look – that West Coast depth of field and darkness of shadow. Now, having returned home to paint the landscape of his childhood, Hockney draws from his lifetime’s experience of a foreign land, monumentally rendering the Dales a la the Grand Canyon, in alien colour and with impossible vividness.  This linkage is made explicit via the curatorial decision to dedicate the first room to early Hockney, laying the bedrock of American reference points by which to understand the recent work that fills the rest of the gallery. And it is this transcribed luminosity that makes this exhibition so accessible – so ‘very generous to the spectator’, in the words of the curator Marco Livingstone: ‘even a 6 year-old coming fresh [without a grounding in art history] will have the visual sensation’.

Another key to this immediate immersion is, of course, scale, with the title ‘A Bigger Picture’ carrying a wholly literal meaning alongside general allusions to the retrospective trope. Cobbling together canvases as if they were his early photo-collages, Hockney has created vast, sprawling surfaces on which he creates his stage set-like panoramas of woodland and hillscapes. While some of the works veer toward being imaginative rather than the representational, their claim to reality is made good by virtue of sheer size, forcing the viewer to take them seriously as worldviews – however purple. His re-workings of Claude Lorrain’s Sermon on the Mount (an obscure but welcome anomaly, there by virtue of their newness), for example, demand that we literally look upwards to Christ on high, inducing us to join the depicted thronging crowds – to become actors on a painted stage. Even those smaller works on display are given a touch of polyptych monumentality through grouped en masse curation.

This exhibition demonstrates David Hockney’s tremendous capacity to re-invent himself and move with the times. Look, for example, to his airbrushed Ipad drawings (the tablet having replaced the artist’s sketchbook!), which appear like spoof versions of his paintings, glitchily replicated on Paint by geeky 13 year-olds: or, to his movie-montages that rework his classic photo-montage with HD monitors.

With such a large body of work on display, it is inevitable that some pieces are better than others. But even the failures amongst the fruits of Hockney’s recent bout of creativity are evidence or his remarkable artistry: ever curious, ever experimenting with image-making, Hockney makes a convincing case for the experiential authenticity of canvas over camera.

Watch Hockney Exhibition Video


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