14 March 2012

David Hockney at the Royal Academy

The Royal Academy did an excellent job in their pre-publicity for this event and they managed to persuade me to buy a timed ticket before it opened despite me not being a great fan of Hockney or even a regular visitor to traditional galleries.

And so I found myself at the Royal Academy at 3:30 on at Saturday afternoon walking past the long queue and then fighting my way through the shop to get in to the exhibition.

Inside it is the familiar arrangement of rooms except that a few ropes mean that you can only pass through it in one direction. Rather like Ikea except with things you want in it.

I think that it is fair to say that the exhibition starts slowly and the first couple of rooms have some interesting if not spectacular pictures that show us just a little of Hockney's history.

Then we enter a new gallery and everything explodes.

On one wall is a tight arrangements of watercolours and on another similar scenes in oils. They are all different but there are common features like hay bales and prominent roads leading you through the picture.

It is totally unrealistic to attempt to show the impact that they make by showing just one of them so just appreciate this one in its own right. Each picture is gorgeous and together they are sensational.


These are the last of the small pictures that we see. Most of the rest range from large to monumental. Each is consists of a number of canvasses that are mounted separately but together. Rather like a jig-saw puzzle for very small children.

Repetition is a common theme. In one room there are seven large paintings of a group of trees that were all painted from the same spot but on different days. Hockney starts to veer towards the abstract here and while the earlier landscapes used natural colours the later ones have vivid blues, yellows, purples and greens that are not natural but somehow look as though they should be,


And that brings us to the very large picture that has been chosen to promote the event. It's easy to see why you would choose it to do that.

As before, this is one of a series of pictures showing the impact of the woodsmen on the landscape. A tree stump is captured from several angles and in several colours and is joined by the recently cut logs.

This is a magnificent painting that, again, has to be seen in its full size to be appreciated.

But it is not my favourite picture. This one is.


The composition, colours and scale make this a breath-taking picture that both draws you to it to see the detail and pushes you away to see the, er, bigger picture. That detail includes the Spring flowers, fresh leaves, bold trunks and the whisper of more trees behind.

Exiting the exhibition after two stimulating hours it took a fraction of a nano-second to decide to buy the exhibition catalogue (I don't but catalogues) which has this picture wrapped around it.

The catalogue is sumptuous and does far more than just repeat the pictures for you, though it does that too. If you go to the exhibition you should definitely buy the catalogue and if you do not go then you should buy in anyway.

It is impossible to overstate how good the Hockney exhibition is. The pictures are stunning and are made the best of by the way that they are presented. It is easy to overlook curating as a skill and it takes a job as well done as this one to remind you what a different it makes.

Sadly I cannot afford to buy a Hockney, nor do I have the space to hang one, so I'll just have to console myself with the catalogue. That'll do.

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