Thursday 16 February 2012

David Hockney - a close reading of landscape and weatherscape

Probably one of the best art exhibition I have ever been too, rivalling seeing Henry Moore sculptures outdoors at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park for scale, passion and pleasure. Now I’m no art critic - some of the professional ones have been scathing. So whilst I may grant them that the current Royal Academy exhibition ticket is expensive, it is in my opinion well worth it. I know what I like and like this I most definitely did like! A wonderful birthday treat for me from my friend Judy. Thank you so much.

It is is an exhibition on a grand scale – both in the numbers of works displayed and the size of the individual pieces. I did not now that Hockney had painted so many landscapes. Known to me only for his Hollywoodise swimming pools with their inevitable shimmering blues amidst the Californian greenery, matt blank concrete house walls and naked bodies, this exhibition takes Hockney back to his roots. A child of Bradford he returned to the North of England in 1997 to be with a dying friend who had suggested he paint the local Yorkshire landscape. He painted throughout the seasons, bringing a vivid palette of colours to capture all the impact of nature and to tantalise all the viewers senses from views of the crisp white snow crunching under one’s feet during a winter walk, to the dank grey winter morning fogs seeping through one’s clothing achingly into one’s bones, to the rustle of golden autumnal leaf fall, to the heady, sensual intensity of new spring growth and the sultry warmth of fading summer evening light.

This seasonal variation theme is common within many of the works on show. He has often painted from exactly the same spot in all 4 seasons of the year, showing an intimate picture  of how the weather impacts the countryside and changes how we see the same trees, the same fields, the same lanes etc under different environmental conditions and different light regimes. This viewer found them very intimate, quite sensual and extremely pleasing. In fact I wasn’t the only one walking round the exhibit with a big smile on my face. The Royal Academy chose to hang  the 4 sizable Thixendale Trees works as the exhibition entrance point, whilst housing a sequence of 51 prints depicting the Arrival of Spring around one large room, and to fill a wall full of water colours in another.

The colours are vibrant, extraordinarily rich, and in marked contrast to the continuing predominance of boring black-grey tones worn by Londoner art gallery attendees. His reds and greens are particularly stunning, especially a deep shade of dried blood red crimson which is uses to great effect on paths, undergrowths, and canyons.

Yes, not all the works are inspired by the UK. The exhibition also includes some US landscapes. These include some photo collages of the Grand Canyon in which the cubist like disjunctions of the overlapping photos creating an almost real 3d effect for the viewer. In addition, there is a very large, monumental Canyon painting in which he uses the aforementioned crimson to produce an excruciatingly passionate bombardment of one’s eyes. It is a totally hypnotic work!

If this is what his artist’s eye makes of places often announced by monotone descriptions of sandstone coloured canyons and grey day dales, what would he turn the colours of Indian into I wonder?  Indeed the fields in one of his rolling hills Yorkshire landscapes reminded me of saris strewn across the ground to dry in the Indian sun.

The last 3 rooms in the exhibit were comparatively disappointing: although his Yosemite works were instantly recognisable, his sequence  of works based around Claude Lorrain’s The Sermon on The Mount left me cold and at a loss as to why he had painted these.

Hockney had famously used an ipad in place of sketchpads to sketch for many of these and indeed his ipad sketches are on show along side some of his more traditional paper sketch books which gave rise to many of the works in this collection. In addition, there is a film show which shows split screen 2 landscape videos made slowly walking along a lane or panning along a verge. The slow pan of the verge is uncompromising and quite humorous as 2 flashes of red and black metal drive by. Each picture is composed of video from one of 9 cameras which are housed on the back of a jeep, giving a 3x3 grid, each grid section timed slightly off, again to create that cubist distortion to ensure we don’t just think of this as a video of our Sunday walk, but instead lets us revel in the moments through that slight difference in angular perspective, that seasonal variance and brings to life the silent soundtrack in the viewer’s mind of crunch, and rustle, whisper and blow.

ashramblings verdict: 5* Not to be missed. But sadly if you haven’t already got tickets, you might have to!



Royal Academy of Arts, London
21 January - 9 April 2012

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