One of the first big art shows of the year opens on Saturday and it’s a great one. It’s also going to be hugely popular so if you haven’t got tickets yet, book them right now (advance tickets for January and February are sold out already). The press view was packed but the great thing is even with over 100 people there, we could still see everything because it’s a big show in every sense – lots of tall, airy rooms and most of the paintings or prints are huge. Also, Hockney insisted that the RA hang every picture as high as possible so you can see the art above everyone’s heads. And that says it all – accessible (as the curator Martin Gayford said, even a 6 year old will revel in the vibrant colours of this show) and populist, it’s also beautiful and incredibly moving.
For anybody who associates Hockney with polaroid portraits of swimming pools and Celia Birtwell, this show will come as something of a surprise. The earliest pieces are two landscapes from 1956 when Hockney was a student at Bradford School of Art and the paintings stand out because of their grey palette. In fact it was precisely because of the lack of light that Hockney moved to LA: he wanted to get the contrasts and shadows that he had seen in Hollywood films. And it wasn’t until his a close friend was dying in the late 1990s that Hockney returned home to Yorkshire and started to paint the surrounding landscape. Deeply familiar from his childhood, particularly his years as a 14 and 15 year old when he worked as an agricultural labourer, Hockney has spent the last 7 summers in Bridlington, a sleepy seaside town. The results are series of paintings (like Monet’s Waterlilies series which heavily influenced him) of the same landscape from the same viewpoint but at different times of the year. What differentiates them though are their incredible colours. size and mediums. There are watercolours and oils but also i-Pad drawings (apparently Hockney sometimes begins at 4.30am drawing on his i-Pad from his bedroom window) that are then printed out on canvasses up to 12 feet high. Incredibly the colours are just as vivid on the i-Pad (you can see 5 at the show) as on the large, sometimes huge prints.
Perhaps the two most successful rooms are ‘The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, 2011’ which shows 51 printed out i-Pad drawings created from 1st January to 2nd June topped off by a huge fairytale-like oil painting at one end (see above), followed by the next door room which shows landscape scenes from 9 cameras on 18 grid screens. This is video art as its most mesmerising, as if you are watching the landscape through Hockney’s eyes.
As you can tell, we loved this show. And if you do bring your kid(s), pick up the Art by Numbers picture set for sale at the shop. For a bargain £3.95, you or your child can create your very own Hockney landscape yourselves. And finally, if you want to know more about Hockney, the man, there’s a brill new biography just out by Christopher Simon Sykes. Read more about it here.