Hockney’s big picture


David Hockney: A Bigger Picture, Royal Academy of Arts, until April 9.

IN THE days when I kept a sketch book in my bag, (councillors arguing at meetings, the rear view of cars during hold-ups on the M25) I was taught that painting is not just about putting colour on canvas, it’s about seeing.

David Hockney sees. And how. He sees things, colours, shapes we all see if we were educated to look properly. Driving home from Rye last week, rays from a low sun deflected beneath purple clouds and delivered exactly the colours Hockney found on the Yorkshire Wolds. Spectacular orange, purple, gold, acid green.

I went to his exhibition: David Hockney: A Bigger Picture at the Royal Academy on Sunday and was surprised and moved by clear evidence of his love of landscape.

It seemed the rackety past (A Bigger Splash) has segued effortlessly into a contented and prolific present but the precision of clear colour and line ensured his forests; pastures, farms were never obscured by fussy muddiness.

My favourite element of the exhibition was the room dedicated to Hockney’s iPad drawings. As he himself comments: “Everything begins with the sketchbooks.’ In recent years his iPad – the instant drawing tool - has become a replacement for the sketchbook and conveys even more immediacy.

The man is in love with the changing of the seasons, deeply affected by the arrival of spring, illustrated here by 51 prints illustrating the transition from winter through to late spring on one small road. The prints originate from drawings made on the iPad and represent the climax of Hockney’s mastery of this image-making tool.

here are several multi-canvas paintings; one is the culmination of the spring installation and puts the viewer centre stage as the drama of spring is played out on all sides.

Woldgate Woods is illustrated with seven paintings, each consisting of six canvases where Hockney returned throughout 2006 to record the same scene.

This exhibition repays a thousandfold the visitor’s investment in time (and queueing) to access the gallery. The works are accessible (children were squealing with delight, students were earnestly reproducing pictures in their sketchbooks) but subtle enough to be appreciated and valued at the most sophisticated level.

They make you realise that inspiration that lies in a simple, undramatic place – even your back garden. On the beautiful Uckfield line ride southwards to Buxted I marvelled at the meadows and twisting streams from the train window and wondered.....just what would Hockney have made of them?

Heavily but not excessively publicised, this exhibition is essential viewing for anyone who loves their country.

Sponsored by banking group BNP Paribas, it runs until Monday, April 9. Gallery hours are 10am-6pm daily with a late night on Fridays. Do go if you can.

Susan King