David Hockney, A Bigger Picture, Royal Academy of Art
A Bigger Picture at the Royal Academy of Art, London, is almost completely sold-out until April for good reasons. This exhibition of Hockney’s landscape works is named in reference to one of his most famous works A Bigger Splash, produced in L.A. in 1967. A Bigger Picture not only takes us back to Hockney’s roots, it functions to represent points on long and short time scales across his career.
The collection is pleasantly non-linear and creative as a retrospective. The reference to one of Hockney’s most seminal works in the exhibition title is a humbling reminder that even the biggest modern artists can take solace and inspiration from their roots. This exhibition sees Hockney past the peak of his career and enjoying a rightful place in the canon of modern painters, reengaging with the place he grew up and developed as an artist – A Bigger Picture is in this sense an unavoidably personal and intimate exhibition. Intimacy of this size and scale is deeply emotive.
Hockney’s awe over nature and the power of natural landscape is instantly palpable. More than anything else, you are unlikely to see a more joyous and exuberant exhibition this year. Certain individual paintings such as The Road To York Through Sledmore (1997) and the gallery rooms, (in particular room 6, Woldgate Woods) combine to create a cumulative, completely immersive experience of natural beauty. Hockney’s characteristically brilliant use of unseen colours and inventive use of perspective absolutely comes forward in these landscape works. An incredible sense of space, scale and movement is created in every painting. Together as a collection, this creates an almost overwhelming experience for the viewer.
Some pieces are physically enormous, asserting their vibrant presence across numerous adjoined canvasses. Other, though smaller in size, are no less captivating. Any Londoner who is from the countryside is likely to appreciate the sensation of forgetting how glorious British landscapes can be, until we are confronted by one again and reminded. The works in A Bigger Picture put you on a hilltop, a country-lane, in a wood. The sense of flux and movement crystallised by Hockney’s techniques contributes to it but it is mainly the result of Hockney’s genuine love of Yorkshire and desire to capture its beauty and understated sublimity that make the exhibition a delight.
To call A Bigger Picture a retrospective would be belittling. Firstly because the exhibition includes a large number of new commissions – Hockney’s new iPad paintings have understandably caused quite a buzz. This is an exhibition which explores an artist’s desire to examine his own roots – rather than one summarising or overviewing a career, as a retrospective might. It is, as we might expect from RAA, judiciously and smartly collected and arranged.
Most rooms cover a theme or a particular specific location, whilst the direction of the exhibition leads to a culmination in room 9; The Arrival of Spring, which portrays Hockney’s sense of action and wakefulness in nature, in particular a kind of awareness possessed only by spring. This collection especially projects a pure joy, peace and calm. This is the gem of the exhibition. Huge oil on canvass (or rather, 32 canvasses) The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven) is surrounded by 51 prints of Hockney’s stunning iPad paintings. These prints serve to remind us of Hockney’s adroit abilities to manipulate multi-media tools to his means, and to consistently use new technologies in the most inventive and beautiful ways.
This exhibition is beautiful and life affirming. It is a reminder of the often-unseen beauty of the world around us. It is a jubilant experience, one which is impossible to forget and unlikely to be matched by another exhibition in 2012.
David Hockney A Bigger Picture at Royal Academy of Arts 21st January – 9th April. Book online here.