David Hockney painting The Road to Thwing, Late Spring.
© David Hockney/Photograph by Jean-Pierre Gonçalves de Lima/Thames & HudsonToday we braved the crowds which have been packing the Royal Academy's exhibition David Hockney: A bigger picture. And it certainly was worth it.
I have been a fan of Hockney's work since the 60s, and have avidly followed what he has been exploring. I find him to be an exciting thinker about visual art, constantly curious and stimulating my own thoughts about how we see. He has the enthusiastic outlook and energy of Picasso, never failing to excite wonder and observation in me.
There has been an incredible amount of publicity for this exhibition, in book form and in reviews (listed on Hockney's website), and the show has therefore turned out to be the kind of blockbuster one would expect for a Monet or Van Gogh.
Particular details which struck me included the sculptural qualities of his paintings of hawthorn bushes. At present around us the blackthorn bushes are in blossom, and from a distance the edges of fields seem to be blocked out with white patches, and yet, when approached close to the intricacy of the lace-like construct of the sprays of blossom flowers is exquisite.
Another aspect which delights me is the attention to the details of roadside plants and those on the ground below the trees and hedgerows. Hockney is looking everywhere - the ground in many paintings may appear to be 'filled in' in places, but he notices what it is that is growing or lying there, and lets us notice it too.
The charcoal drawings are beautiful. These are the starting points for the paintings, and remind us of the landscape heritage onto which Hockney builds. The ipad drawings come out of this great drawing skill that Hockney has always shown. Anyone who can wield a stick of charcoal like this can work with an ipad - once again it is the looking, seeing, and eye-hand communication that matters. The ipad is just the tool. The ipad simply conflates sketchbook and paint, and facilitates enlargement without further work being necessary. It does not provide any artistic magic - the artist does that.
One of Hockney's Yosemite multi ipad drawings (each one consists of six pieces together)
The most magical moment for me was in the room containing the multi-part ipad drawings of Yosemite park. It just happened that I was totally alone for several minutes with these tall, close imposing beautiful drawings, and it was awe-inspiring being there with them. I started thinking about why the feeling was just like being there, and wondered if the fact that they had been drawn small, on the ipad, and then enlarged in scale had something to do with it. Are sketches done on a comfortable scale for the hand more potent than a re-drawn or re-painted version done with large scale marks?
David Hockney's intellectual curiosity is another aspect which excites me. The room which contains his explorations of Claude Lorrain's The sermon on the mount from the Frick Museum's collection, is fascinating indeed. This is an interesting link which mentions it amongst many of the other works.
Sometimes critics seem to be suspicious of popularity - as if art can only be good if a small elite can see its worth. But for me I think that an artist's work can be more than individual paintings. I heard someone today say that the trouble was that not one of the paintings was going to stay with her as an outstanding memory. But that is just like our attitude to landscape: it has to be looked at anew each time, noticed, and added to the accumulation of previous noticing. It is the joy of looking which shines out of this exhibition, and the excitement of looking and noting what he sees and how he sees - and trying different ways of noting it - which is so inspiring about Hockney's whole oeuvre.