“David Hockney – A Bigger Picture” is on at the Royal Academy from 21 January through 9 April 2012 and presents his latest paintings, prints and digital (iPad) drawings. I went along with my own tablet to study Hockney’s work and maybe have a hand at some digital drawing myself.
Colour-ific! Trees! More trees!
Throughout “David Hockney – A Bigger Picture” runs several threads: the idea is so big it can’t be realised in a single frame; vibrant theatricality in so many of the works that are dramatically staged with stark light and shadows. And the man really loves trees. Each of Hockney’s paintings seem a love song to nature and his native Yorkshire, working from memory as well as en plein aire.
Here’s a look at a few galleries that stood out for me:
7 – Hawthorne Blossom
It seems that the iPad has not only provided a new medium for Hockney; digital method has clearly influenced his “analogue” painting, with Willy Wonka colour palates, “alien” forms (that are really Hawthorne trees) and vivid technicolour dream skies. But then the vast history of painting is still present, with references to Van Gogh, Monet, Derain, Rousseau (thinking “Tiger in the grass” in some of these) and a dose of Fauvism.
8 – Trees and Totems
In this gallery, there is focus on the sawn tree trunk. The hacked off stumps feel important, with a proud and stoic “last man standing” kind of feel.
9 – The arrival of spring
Here there are 51 prints (of digital iPad drawings) and a 31-panel enormous oil painting. I at first thought the display to be rather twee. The longer I sit and consider, the room starts to work, the iPad prints and painting complementing each other…
With the symmetrical/theatrical “spring trees” oil painting at one end, and the 51 prints very neatly arranged on the walls, there is another element of very satisfying order added by the dates inscribed at the bottom of each print …it’s like being INSIDE a calendar… And with the bright, unreal colours, maybe a more fitting title for the room might be “anticipation of spring”.
As noted before, the iPad drawings seem to have informed work that follows (brighter “techno colour”, broad opaque strokes, bold composition)…even though on iPad, it’s clearly painted by the same hand as the bright colours and use of bold line hasn’t changed. I haven’t seen the rest yet, but at this point, Hockney doesn’t seem to have experimented with different mark-marking capable with the iPad; in these paintings, Hockney seems to be satisfied with finding his “trademark” marks/colours in the iPad and stuck with them.
At the same time, in some of the iPad paintings I feel something is missing; ironically, they seem a bit … primitive? Or maybe it’s a “going back” a regression, which concentrates more on memory and feeling than representation. All the same, I quite enjoy their “freshness”, which I feel is a direct result of the digital means used to capture the image. In my experience, painting on the iPad allows for a more immediate of transfer of ideas to “paper” than even idea to paper does!
In an ironic twist, I observed quite a few students sketching on paper with graphite in front these prints of digital drawings. Thus, I settled in the “calendar” room with my own iPad as my sketchpad and tried to draw my own memory of an important tree (inspired by Hockney’s Tree and Totems, and the Arrival of Spring rooms). The first one that came to mind was my own special tree, which I climbed up every day in the summer, and called it my “Reading Tree”, the giant leafy matriarch in front of the house where we lived in the early 80’s:
12 – Sketchbooks and iPads
Naturally, I always love peeking into an artist’s sketchbook, often a rare treasure that many artists keep to themselves. Though the iPad work is interesting, I find Hockney’s sketchbooks (the real ones) richly alive; when placed side-by-side with iPad work, the digital means may be illuminated from within yet is somehow is duller by comparison.
And with his paper sketchpad even in this digital age, Hockney demonstrates the value of pen and paper for capturing that fleeting idea… and then, in the contemporary presentation/display of his journals, he offers films/animations of the leaves being turned. In the absence of having the real thing sitting open to just one page, this way allows viewers the chance to leaf through Hockney’s imagination.
13 – Current work
I’m not quite as convinced by the Yosemite iPad paintings, maybe it was the scale and I thought, are they Way Too Big? Then again, I’m not sure smaller would be better either…Perhaps in these ginormous prints, Hockney was trying to prove something by making them bigger and bigger, but I didn’t get the point… Perhaps these images would’ve been improved by remaining the same size colour, etc., just worked in oils vs printed on paper. In any case, I can’t quite put my finger on why the 51 smaller iPad prints worked better than the giant iPad prints. Bigger is not better here.
Hockney uses technology to refute argument that “painting is dead”?
As someone who would love to be “painter” (I’m rather into technology), I am very glad to see a “bone fide” artist, who still paints in oils, using the iPad to complement his practice, no apologies, no excuses. It’s as if Hockney is saying, “there’s drawing, painting, and now there’s a third way to make images.” Not only that, but Hockney has taken a centuries-old tradition of landscape painting into 2012 and brought pictures of trees and meadows to the here-and-now quite successfully.
Hockney also makes a noteworthy rebuttal against the “painting is dead” argument; by experimenting with digital art, by printing directly from iPad paintings (as an art form in and of itself) and also by allowing this contemporary medium to inform his oil paintings. Surely the brighter palette (even for Hockney), and bolder compositions/ choices are an indication of the iPad’s impact on his work.
After seeing “The Bigger Picture” and reading some of the critics’ reviews, I have to agree, that sure, it’s not for everybody. (One particularly harsh reviewer calls these works “ghastly” but don’t take his word for it.) I’m still glad I went, firstly because the exhibition relates to my current artistic research around use of technology in art… not least of all, I enjoy the “just for fun” art shows, too. Check it out; this “old” painter still has some tricks in him yet!
More links and information about David Hockney
- David Hockney – A Bigger Picture at Royal Academy, 21 January through 9 April 2012
- David Hockney Pictures – his official website
- David Hockney’s instant iPad art – BBC – 2 November 2010
- David Hockney’s iPad art – The Telegraph – 20 October 2010
- How David Hockney became the world’s formost iPad painter – Wired magazine – 18 November 2013
Reviews of David Hockney – A Bigger Picture
- “Whatever game David Hockney is playing in his hotly anticipated Royal Academy show eludes me“, says Alastair Sooke of The Telegraph (16 Jan 2012) – 3/5 stars
- Laura Cumming of the Guardian reviews The Bigger Picture – “…radiantly bright, spectacularly large in both scale and extent and ebullient to the point of jubilation. It is also garrulous, gaudy and repetitive.” (22 January 2012)
- Brian Sewell reviews Hockney’s ‘Bigger Picture” for Evening Standard – “Extravagant claims are made for the master draughtsman’s gigantic paintings of the Yorkshire countryside but the truth is revealed by their ghastly gaudiness” – (19 Jan 2012) 0/5 stars
- Londonist’s Tabish Khan reviews Hockney’s Bigger Picture – “Though you will walk away from this exhibition feeling like you’ve witnessed some brilliant artworks by a modern master, you may not be able to shake the nagging feeling that if Hockney hadn’t played it safe and ventured further into the abstract and the surreal then this exhibition could have been so much more.” (20 January 2012)
- Charles Darwent of The Independent – “Someone should have stood up to Hockney over this uneven show full of wonders … and horrors” (22 Jan 2012)
- David Hockney Scales Up At Royal Academy – from ArtLyst (17 Jan 2012) “But even the failures amongst the fruits of Hockney’s recent bout of creativity are evidence of his remarkable artistry: ever curious, ever experimenting with image-making, Hockney makes a convincing case for the experiential authenticity of canvas over camera.”
- Huffingpost review by Sam Parker – 4/5 stars – “…while Hockney’s landscapes may fall short of being revolutionary in any technical or thematic sense, what he has achieved is something transformative. Each painting engrosses you in what feels like a specific moment in time and space.” (17 Jan 2012)
Exhibition details: “David Hockney – A Bigger Picture” is on at the Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BD, from 21 January through 9 April 2012. Paid admission, concessions