Saturday, March 31, 2012

An evening with Hockney’s works

The Royal Academy of Arts in London is exhibiting a retrospective of David Hockney’s Yorkshire landscapes through April 9.  Hockney has appeared on BBC talking about his return to Yorkshire and his experiments using the iPad as a sketchbook: the two most recent, The Art of Seeing and Alan Yentob’s Imagine, give good background for the exhibits.

It’s fascinating to watch him work, he effortlessly moves color and line onto his canvas amidst the fields and woods that he loves.  I know it’s drive, talent and practice, but, at 70, he’s also inspirational.


His show has been difficult to get into: tickets sell out early and mine were for 10:30 in the evening.  It turned out not to be crowded and tickets were still being sold at the door, so it may be possible to walk in.


And worth it.  The paintings are all bold, strong landscapes, somewhat impressionistic but both abstract and filled with movement.  Some, like the Grand Canyon paintings (below), are hyper-real: the familiar oranges have been heightened and the perspectives flattened to intensify the impact.

Others, tracing changes through the seasons, use marks and colors to capture the way light falls through the trees and slants across fields. The differences in spring and summer are both in the size of the strokes and the depth of the greens, the way the branches fall and the shadows rise.


I liked the small gems as well.  There are wonderful charcoal drawings that combine smudges and strokes, dark and faded, to show a dense copse of trees or to capture receding rows of birch trunks.  There is a small room with sketch books and iPad originals showing ideas and works in progress.

The paintings are generally quite large, made up of many individual panels or arrays of themed watercolors and oils.  Paintings that seem cartoonish at arms length develop a lot of depth and realism when viewed  from 20 feet away.  The energy is grasses and leaves is amazing: skies are often pushed towards the margins (despite accompanying text comparing his works to Constable).  I don’t quite see how he got the level of detail drawn on an iPad that these works have: he used a stylus, but even so there are very delicate lines and erasures that seem very difficult.

There’s a wonderful accompanying catalog (for 30 gbp!) but it doesn’t do justice to the strength and depth of the paintings hung in the galleries.  Hockney shows have been moving around Europe’s museums over the past few years – if you have a chance to see one it’s really worthwhile.

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