I don’t remember exactly when I became aware of the work of David Hockney, but my guess is that it was in the early 1970’s. It would almost certainly have been through the Sunday Times Colour Magazine, which in those pre-Murdoch days was my choice of reading on sundays. Hockney was an ideal subject for the colour magazine as he was by then living in California, his work depicting the bright west-coast lifestyle. Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy was the first painting I remember. (The Mr and Mrs of the title were fashion designer Ossie Clark and textile designer Celia Birtwell, painted after their wedding where Hockney was best man; Percy was one of their cats). See it here.
I came closer to Hockney’s work when living in Leeds. Jonathan Silver opened the 1853 Gallery at Salt’s Mill, at Saltaire near Bradford, and gave over one enormous floor of this giant old mill complex to the work of Hockney. We were quite regular visitors. Paintings, prints, posters, books, anything to do with Hockney was here – and so was the man himself, occasionally.
That is all by way of a pre-amble to the huge show at London’s Royal Academy - David Hockney: A Bigger Picture, which crowds are flocking to in their thousands, around seven thousand people on one day recently. I’ve always been impressed by Hockney’s enthusiasm for new technologies, his willingness to explore new things. Some have been tried, and then passed over. Others have become part of his oeuvre. Photo-collages, shot with Polaroid Instamatic cameras, the use of fax machines, photocopiers and printers; digital cameras; art made on an iPhone, and now the iPad. I was keen to see these in this exhibition.
The Royal Academy exhibition occupies all the main rooms, and much of the work was done by Hockney knowing it would be shown there. The works on display are largely his new series of landscapes of east Yorkshire (he has now moved back to England to live in Bridlington) and the scale is enormous: several pieces are over 12 metres across. He describes it as " seeing England through a Californian filter" and the views are certainly done in very vivid colours. It is a very "dense hang" - in one room I counted 77 paintings. In the largest room he has created an installation "The arrival of spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty-eleven)” a mammoth work, which fills the whole wall, and is complemented by 50 iPad drawings, enlarged from the Pad screen and printed on paper.
There is a lot of this large-scale, bright and colourful, images of Yorkshire landscape, and on my second visit I began to feel that the whole thing was like a big meal, a banquet perhaps, where it’s all excellent food, but you find you are full midway through the main course. For me, there is a bit too much to absorb of the same kind of work.
Reputedly Hockney was the first person in the UK to have an iPad, and the show includes a display of his paintings done on that device (priceless endorsement for Apple). These are well worth seeing. There is also series of new films produced using 9 hi-definition cameras, mounted on the front of a car, which are displayed on multiple screens and provide a fascinating journey through the lanes of East Yorkshire, at various seasons of the year. At the end of the landscape film comes an even more enjoyable short dance film, created with dancer Wayne Sleep, shot from above, with wonderfully witty choreography, music and design. Possibly the best thing in the whole show. So my advice would be to accelerate through some of the middle-order rooms and give yourself plenty of time in the last three rooms, which are fascinating. It is here that Hockney has his iPad paintings. Printed onto paper, and much larger scale than the iPad, this follows an earlier exploration of drawing done on the iPhone
I found this lovely video of Hockney painting on an iPad in the café of the Louisiana Museum in Denmark.
There is short video here of Hockney discussing the films (taken from a BBC Countryfile programme).
I can’t do justice to the volume of work on display, but read this piece from the RA Magazine.
David Hockney: A Bigger Picture is at the Royal Academy in Piccadilly to 9th April, tickets can be bought online, with extended hours on Friday and Saturdays, last entry at 23:30