David Hockney at Tate Britain

@Tate Britain’s David Hockney exhibition is in its last weeks.  It’s open until 29 May 2017 and has late night opening in the final weekend: Friday 26, Saturday 27, and Sunday 28 May 2017 until midnight and Monday 29 May 2017 until 21.00.  If you can find a way to go, it’s definitely worth the effort.  And, if you can find a moment that is less busy, that will be a blessing since it can be hard to move around and even harder to find space in front of the pieces you wish to view.

What an overwhelming and fabulous exhibition!  It’s probably not done to complain but there’s almost too much to see, too much of a good thing.  There are 12 rooms, spanning his whole life, showing how his art has evolved, using different media: oils, acrylics, drawing, painting, print, photography, video and iPad.  Unifying the whole is the question: how does the artist capture the real world in 2D?

There is pretty minimal interpretation in the rooms.  Even the AV guide, although very good, selects only one or two pieces in each room to discuss in any detail.  It does include audio and video clips of David Hockney discussing his work and that is very interesting especially when juxtaposed with the views of one of the curators on the same piece.

The first room is on the theme of “a play within a play”, demonstrating how Hockney has raised questions about picture-making and perspective across his career.  After that, the material is mostly presented chronologically, starting with his demonstrations of versatility in his early work and moving through the famous swimming pool pictures and portrayals of people in his life and places in his life, including the Yorkshire Wolds, to video pieces and art created and played back on iPads.

I appreciated the cleverness of the work in the first few rooms.  I thought the story behind the painting of the view of the Swiss Alps in Room 2 was amusing.  But the exhibition started to come alive for me in Room 4 with the pictures of California, exploring the straight lines of the buildings and quality of the bright light.

I could have stayed in Room 4 a long time but my companion reminded me there were eight more rooms to go!  I liked The Bigger Splash as well as Peter getting out of Nick’s Pool.  Hockney asks how you capture something that is constantly moving and has no surface, light on the pool and on the window, and gives a good answer in the picture.

Room 5 has some huge pieces, many portraits and paintings with people, including Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) from 1972 which I found very beautiful with its backdrop of lush vegetation.

Room 6 is like a respite – smaller drawings, created on Hockney’s travels, capturing a moment on the page – and then it’s on to Room 7 where we see how Hockney has used photographs, not just to capture people and scenes for later portrayal in oil or acrylic, but to create the pictures.  He takes photographs of multiple angles or snapshots across time and then lies them side by side to make up a multidimensional picture or takes close-ups of the different bits of the scene then reassembles the whole picture.  We really liked the Scrabble Game, showing multiple angles and capturing the passage of time in a still image, and Bolton Abbey, using the photographs to build up the collage.  Gregory Swimming, LA March 1982, is interesting because captured in the photographs are the same wavy interference patterns that he had previously portrayed in his paintings.

If I’d appreciated the art in the first rooms, I loved the last four rooms.

Room 9 shows paintings made in and of the Yorkshire Wolds, particularly of a road he drove again and again – The Road Across the Wolds and The Road up Garrowby Hill.  One painting, impossible to photograph, because it is a series of images from a long journey, all placed on the canvass, each mini scene seeming to form part of the whole but with its own perspective.

Room 10 contains paintings made after he moved back to Yorkshire for about 10 years from 2003.  They were painted en plein air with vibrant crazy colours.  Elderflower Blossom Kilham 2006 reminds me of my childhood.

Room 11 contains video art, The Four Seasons.  Hockney mounted 9 video cameras on a rig and drove it down a field in Yorkshire once in each of the four seasons.  On each wall in the small gallery, there is a group of 9 screens, each showing the film from one camera.  The films are synchronised so you can see a slightly different aspect of the view and you can see the same piece of road in each of the seasons.  The key to getting the most out of this work is to get into the centre of the room and look around the space.  It’s very special.  Spot the bird flying across summer, I think it was, and the snow falling from the trees in winter.

The final room is split into two.  The first has charcoal drawings of Yorkshire and then more paintings of his house in California.  The drawings of Yorkshire, The Arrival of Spring 2013, are a paean to the experience of seeing the countryside awakening to the Spring, an experience we can take for granted but which Hockney found he had missed while living in California.  They show five places at five moments between the first shoots and the verdant full blossoming.  Fabulous!

In the second half of the room we see the iPad art, shown on screens bigger than the original iPad.  What I had not realised was that the iPad not only becomes a canvas but it also records how a drawing or painting is made.  You can play back the creation of the piece, seeing how the artist paints, gradually building up the, and correcting, the image.  It was fascinating.

I really enjoyed the exhibition and only wish you a quiet moment to appreciate it fully.

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