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Tuesday, 24 January 2012

David Hockney: A Bigger Picture, Royal Academy

Allow plenty of time when you go to the David Hockney, the hottest exhibition to open in London this month. The Royal Academy dedicates its main space to this illustrious artist, in a major retrospective show that includes over 150 works. Some pieces date back as far as 1956, but most have been created in the last eight years, in a staggering flurry of activity.

With Lucian Freud gone, Hockney is being dubbed as Britain’s best painter - this exhibition seems set to secure the crown. We are taken on a journey through Hockney’s vast output visiting numerous fascinating landscapes from different stages of the artist's life. The exhibition’s sole focus is landscapes… Hockney’s favourite subject receives obsessive and excessive treatment, in particular the lands of East Yorkshire where he has been stationed for the past few years. Many of the huge paintings are made from several adjoined canvases, their sheer scale makes them very impressive and much of the colour is so bright you feel a glow standing beneath them. The colours, the vibrancy, the sense of perspective and line all illustrate the passion behind Hockney’s talent, he often seems overwhelmed by the natural beauty before him, and he certainly presents a glorious picture of our land. ‘Woldgate Woods’ and ‘Winter Timber’ stick in my mind: huge bright canvases, rich and atmospheric, bold and memorable.

The most widely anticipated part of this show perhaps is the suite of iPad drawings, a new technology Hockney seems captivating by. The Arrival of Spring features 51 curious iPad drawings of the same country road at different points of the year. The immediacy and speed with which he can draw on this electronic tablet makes it the perfect medium for capturing ever-changing nature. It is an intriguing marriage: instantaneous modern technology and timeless rustic subject matter. It is a breathtaking room of images: as the drawings are printed on paper their original medium is not immediately obvious; Hockney makes the finger stokes very painterly. They are joyful and lively, full of innocent vision. I would have loved to see the process of creation, an amazing function on the iPad enables one to watch how a picture is drawn.

Towards the end of the exhibition a film is playing, a very different medium for Hockney, but even here his energy and love of colour is evident. The film is a collage of moving images; it is lovely and happy, all the audience were smiling watching dancers in bright costumes with familiar upbeat piano music. I had to drag myself away from staying for a second sitting. David Hockney was born with synaesthesia, a neurological condition where you see colours to musical stimuli. With my interest in music and art this particularly fascinates me, effects that can be noticed in this film, but are perhaps not as obvious in his paintings.

I left feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by this epic exhibition, and yet have no doubt that it was Hockney’s vivid canvases that lifted my mood for the rest of the day, it is the perfect remedy to fight off the January blues.

Exhibition continues until 9 April 2012, book here.

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