The hotly anticipated arrival of David Hockney’s A Bigger Picture at the Royal Academy doesn’t fail to disappoint. On show is over 150 works, most of which have been completed within the last decade. The main galleries of the academy were offered to the artist to show landscapes after he showed Bigger Trees near Warter at the Summer Exhibition in 2007. From oil paintings to somewhat controversial iPad drawings, Hockney gives us a lot to talk about in his portrayal of his beloved Yorkshire.
One thing that hits you when you first walk into the exhibition is the sheer size of some of the work on show. Vibrant shades of pinks, blues and oranges are glistening from the outset. A retrospective of landscapes from further a field from the beginning of the artists career are shown to put the new Yorkshire landscapes into perspective. These vibrant offerings show the Grand Canyon and California under an orange spotlight and prove the artist’s interest in dazzling colour is not a new one. Also shown at this stage are stunning photocollages, my favourite of which is Grand Canyon Looking North, Sept 1982. The fan shaped arrangement reminds me of the Japanese influence over the impressionists, who to me at least, seem to have influenced Hockney more clearly later on in the exhibition.
This bright use of colour is developed in Hockney’s depiction of the Yorkshire landscape. While we would expect the most prominent colour to be green, exotic pink skies and blue fields have now been made a feature of the north of England. The sun kissed beaches of Los Angeles are almost somewhat lackluster in comparison. It is clear that Hockney has wanted to share and celebrate his roots, glorifying Yorkshire in an intense use of colour. Many of the large paintings on show are made up on many canvases tiled together like in May Blossom on the Roman Road. These boards allow the viewer to look more closely to the artworks and are also reminiscent of modernist grids. This tiled effect may have been influenced by the photocollages, with many rectangles stuck together, many of which reflect the same scenes as the larger oil paintings. Furthermore these organised, simplified forms can also be mirrored in the portrayal of fields and winding roads in the paintings themselves. As well as the photocollages, charcoal studies and preparatory work from sketch books are in display, showing the artists impressive skill as an able drawer and also his thought process.
The use of new technology in Hockney’s work is undoubtedly what has intrigued most. However, I must admit while somewhat impressive, I prefer the traditional use of oil on canvas. While the smaller pieces were difficult to distinguish from paint first, the blown up works lacked a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ that Hockney’s canvases had in abundance. The problem with printing off images from an iPad onto paper is that they are completely flat and lacking in depth. There is no texture – while exposing the artist’s shortcomings, the iPad drawings also show where he excels. When you look up close at one of Hockney’s megacanvases, there is layer upon layer of paint creating a richness in his art which cannot be seen in his work on an iPad. We are later shown some of the artist’s film across multiple screens put together, much like his canvases. The film has been fragmented almost like a kaleidoscope, an optical illusion to make you focus on different things. While the moving images of landscapes in this way was interesting, Hockney also showed dancers, which I still don’t quite fully understand, it doesn’t really make sense in an exhibition predominantly celebrating landscapes. The passover didn’t seem to flow and was a little uneasy.
What is apparent throughout, is Hockney’s interest in art history and influence from other artists. Many works are reminiscent of Van Gogh and at times there are even what looks like surrealist ideas. The most prominent influence is from the master of landscape paintings, Claude Lorrain, which Hockney has paid homage to with his version of Sermon on the Mount.
This exhibition showed brilliantly the rich culture and vibrancy of Yorkshire. It could be called too big, though I believe Hockney has more than fully delivered. With film, paint and even iPads, the artist has injected some life into the traditional portrayal of landscapes. The Royal Academy has excelled in it’s staging of Hockney’s display of the changing seasons of the north, definitely worth a look, you won’t be let down by the treat behind the academy’s doors.
David Hockney: A Bigger Picture is on show at the Royal Academy is on show until 9 April 2012