Hockney exhibition offers a bigger picture

Tania Ahsan visits the first major exhibition of new large-scale landscape works by David Hockney RA, at The Royal Academy of Arts

Anyone familiar with the East Yorkshire landscape may be bewildered by the way artist David Hockney sees this part of the world. Hockney’s jewelled vibrant colours don’t seem to be in keeping with the greys and browns you first associate with the misty Yorkshire Wolds. However, spend a little time gazing upon these works and Hockney’s passion for the scenery of his county of birth makes you wonder if you haven’t been viewing things too hastily.

As you look closely at some of the paintings here, you enter a magical world where detail and colour combine to draw you into the scene and let you breathe in the rural idyll that’s presented. Hockney has an unusual way of looking at the world; initially his pieces seem almost child-like in their simplicity but the complexity of his work unfolds rapidly under your gaze.

One piece, hidden away among a wall of other paintings, is of Woldgate mist. It’s breathtaking in its technical accuracy but also ethereally moving to the point where you can almost feel the cold moisture in the early morning wooded tunnel.

Those who think primarily of Hockney’s swimming pool paintings created in his adopted home of Los Angeles, may be surprised by what’s on offer at this first large-scale exhibition of the artist’s work in the UK. And ‘large’ is the word to use as some paintings are so big they were created on several canvases put together.

Some of the most profoundly affecting pictures in this exhibition of more than 150 pieces of work are the ones that show the same area changing over time. The exhibition opens with four large canvases showing Three Trees Near Thixendale in spring, summer, winter and autumn, painted from the same spot between 2007 and 2008. The achievement of this series is in its ability to show the ever-changing nature of life. This is repeated in the Coming of Spring to Woldgate series: a force builds as you see the seasons changing and building to a heavenly crescendo of colour, light and movement.

Much has been made of the fact that 74-year-old Hockney has happily accepted modern technology as a medium; iPads are mounted onto the wall in one of the rooms, displaying drawings made on the device and a later room shows a series of pictures that turn out to be iPad drawings blown up on canvas. But Hockney has adopted different mediums throughout his career, for example his photographic collages of the 1980s and his later work using film.

The bucolic beauty to be found in this show is enchanting and uplifting: as journalist Bryan Appleyard put it, when speaking about the nine-camera film installation in the exhibition:  “They make me feel I have never seen a tree before.” Make sure you feast your eyes on this glorious exhibition.

David Hockney RA: The Bigger Picture runs until 9 April 2012 at the Royal Academy of Arts, London