Ok, so I wasn’t wearing my wellies when I visited the Royal Academy in London on Sunday to see the David Hockney exhibition. It was raining enough to have needed them but they are much to muddy and paint splattered to grace such a building. The exhibition ‘A Bigger Picture’ is a celebration of the British countryside and our seasons so I hope you don’t think I’m stretching the theme of my blog too much by writing a post about it.
David Hockney was born in Bradford, West Yorkshire in 1937 and after studying at the Royal College of Art moved to Los Angeles. It is the work he produced whilst in America that he is most famous for, but about 10 years ago he returned to his native Yorkshire where he rediscovered the British countryside, and using a variety of mediums has produced a collection of works that reinterpret landscape painting.
The first thing that strikes you as you enter the gallery is the vibrancy of the colours Hockney has used. The bold, striking paintings are incredibly uplifting and feel celebratory. I used to work in museums and have seen my fair share of paintings and exhibitions but I have never before felt the sense of vibrancy that David Hockney has created here.
After your eyes have adjusted to the colours, I had just come in from a grey, dismal London street. The next thing that you notice is the scale of the exhibition and the paintings. Hockney has taken over the whole of the Academy’s upper floor and some of the paintings are on the scale of advertising hoardings. I haven’t seen paintings this big before. These ‘bigger pictures’ create a feeling of actually being in the landscape. It seems like such obvious way to paint a landscape, on this sort of scale but it hasn’t really been done before.
Since 2004 he has observed the landscape and changing seasons of the Yorkshire wolds around Bridlington. The countryside here is by no means spectacular but he has taken a landscape familiar to most people in Britain, rolling hills, fields, hedgerows and woodland and celebrated it’s beauty. I loved how he has used a seemingly ordinary landscape. Not all of us have spectacular mountains or beaches on our doorstep but we all have somewhere, a lane or park or some fields like those in Hockney’s paintings close by where we can see buds fatten, open and unfurl and blossoms bloom and fade.
The seasons fascinated him, perhaps after spending so long in LA where the sun always shines he was seeing the changes as the years progressed through new eyes.
In some respects my own blog has made me look at my surroundings in greater depth and has made me more aware of the changes going on around me. I overheard 2 women saying they remembered scenes of cow parsley and hawthorn blossom from their childhoods but not now. I think Hockney has shown it is out there, it’s just we’ve stopped looking, whizzing past in cars always in a hurry with no time to stand and stare.
A section of the exhibition is devoted to capturing the glory of hawthorn blossom ‘as if thick white cream had been poured over everything’ (Hockney, quote taken from RA exhibition material). After years of studying the seasons Hockney has grown to understand the ephemeral nature of spring. How spring flowers can be there one day but disappear the next, after heavy rain. He recognises the fleeting nature of spring.
Trees are the show’s primary subject with Hockney depicting the changes from bare winter structures through to the dense canopy of summer and the autumnal decline.
Again the subjects of his paintings are the seemingly ordinary, hawthorn, cow parsley, red campion and roadside plants most of us consider weeds.
His use of colour may look extreme but when you take a closer at trees and the landscape the colours he uses are there. Tree trunks that are orange as a result of lichens on the bark, the tips of tree branches with red, pink and purple hues but most of all I loved how he has captured the zingy green freshness of Spring.
There is no getting away from the fact that at £14 (concessions are available) it is expensive to visit and it won’t appeal to everyone, there have been several critics complaining that it is gaudy. For me, however it was a great experience. Maybe because David Hockney is seeing the British landscape from a different perspective he will encourage those who see his paintings to do the same. I’m already looking at the countryside in a different way, on a bus this morning I noticed how the catkins on some trees looked a rusty orange colour and the stems of some trees rather than being brown were actually bright green from lichens covering the bark. This surely is the mark of a great artist, if he/she can change a person’s perspective on a subject.
The exhibition runs until April 9th 2012 at the Royal Academy of Arts in the centre of London. For more details go to www.royalacademy.org.uk
Pictures are courtesy of Picselect.