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> > > A Bigger Picture: David Hockney at the Royal Academy

7 February 2012

brightly coloured landscape painting by David Hockney

Pearblossom Highway,1986. Photographic collage. Image © David Hockney

A Bigger Picture at the Royal Academy showcases David Hockney's landscape work. Included are oil paintings, photo-collages, charcoal drawings, watercolours, prints and film. With over 150 works displayed, spanning Hockney’s career of over fifty years, it is as much a celebration as an exhibition and, as such, it exudes generosity and abundance. Debbie Caulfield was profoundly affected.

As well as space, there is light and colour; shape and line; movement and change. It is all about life. Life is all about us. It is big and it is beautiful, if we choose to see it this way.

I do believe that painting can change the world. If you see the world is beautiful, thrilling and mysterious, as I do, then you feel quite alive. (Hockney in That's the Way I See It, 1993. Thames and Hudson)

A constant concern in Hockney’s work is the ‘problem’ of depicting three dimensional space on a two dimensional surface. He pushes at the boundaries and limitations of verisimilitude, exploding the myth of the ‘true’ image from a fixed viewpoint, of one-eye linear perspective. Hockney long ago rejected pictorial conventions in favour of a more dynamic approach.

We see space through time. (David Hockney speaking to Marco Livingstone, November 2010).

By the use of multiple viewpoints , as in Pearblossom Highway, Hockney’s photographic collages, or ‘joiners’, are more real than a conventional photograph. There is more space in them.

One point perspective is only a half truth. The most important thing we feel and see – space – the camera cannot even record. (Hockney on Photography, 1988. Jonathan Cape.)

brightly coloured landscape painting by David Hockney

Nichols Canyon, 1980. Acrylic on canvas. Image © David Hockney

Nichols Canyon (1980) was one of many works inspired by driving through California where Hockney lived and worked for many years. The sense of distance and travel through sun-drenched hills are well conveyed. But there is also a tension here; the bright colours create a feeling of claustrophobia. Maybe he was homesick.

Hockney rediscovered his native Yorkshire each time he visited family and friends. Still concerned with space, his preoccupation became nature’s life cycles and seasons, returning to the same scenes often, noticing the changes.

The arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire 2011 is an installation including 51 large-scale iPad drawings printed on paper. Here Hockney draws with colour with fluidity and virtuosity. Subtle tones and quiet colour, richer in my view than the Californian scenes, depict a quiet, modest places; English, settled, safe. However, here too, Hockney’s main concern is to capture the bigness of the space, to cram it all inside the rectangle. It is impossible.

Winter Timber (2009) on fifteen canvases gives us (at least) two vanishing points on two horizons. Blue trees are lined up, creating a barrier between the close vivid present and distant misty future. Curiously, the trees gather into a spiral at the end of a path, along which felled trees lie stacked, as if awaiting their fate.

As with many paintings in the exhibition, this one pulsates with passion. There is also an eerie calm; a sense of peace. The generous, wide sweep of the foreground offers two paths. Death is a certainty. Until then, we live.

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David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture is at The Royal Academy of Arts, London until 9 April 2012.

A range of events accompany this exhibition, several of which are accessible for disabled people.

hockneypictures.com is an excellent Hockney resource (no search facility however), including a fantastic slideshow of his water colours.

Please go to DAOs listings pages for details of the program of access events organised by the RA for this exhibition

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