Frances Bacon meets Warhol? Who is it the famous artist behind this?
Unbelievably the answer is DAVID HOCKNEY. Swimming pools yes. Beautifully turned out (or nude!) men yes. Luscious colours yes. But…. this? Really? At least that was my reaction!
The marvellous retrospective of Hockney’s life’s work at Tate Britain is a testament to the diversity and reinvention of his career. I like our other great British artists of the same generation, Lucien Freud and Francis Bacon, too but on seeing this exhibition I feel that Hockney is the one that has reinvented himself the most.
We start in the first room with a thoughtfully provocative play on perception. The guide points out that what seems real is unreal and what seems unreal is real. The man puts his hands on the glass window in front of us. In reality there is actually perspex on the canvas but the man is drawn on top of it not underneath it. It is cleverer than the drunken student pontifications on reality that I remember having at university. This yields an eye catching painting, a more subtle play with reality and a powerful message from the combination that leaves you thinking about the question.
The next room has the Typhoo tea photo that starts the post, as well as some other images where he plays with adding text and creating images of mass appeal. I would not associate with Hockney with any of the works in this room. Another example is his Cha Cha Cha
Moving into the next room we see him in a new type of discourse about what reality constitutes. In his marriage work he conjures up a Poca Hontis figure out of the canvas colour.
The next room becomes recognisably Hockney full of beautiful boys and some swimming pools. My mother stooped down to a small boy to tell him that the splash is just what he makes when he jumps in and that Hockney spent years agonising over how best to capture the moment of the splash.
From there a large room has some of his better known and loved works of the 1970s which it is always a joy to see again. Long before I saw my first real Hockney I knew this image of Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy as my parents friends had a print of it in their living room and their son was the spitting image of Os clark
(This is a section of the painting which actually extends horizontally in both direction)
The two short walls in the gallery each have a favourite painting of mine of the exhibition. One of a window with a vase of orchids overlooking Mount Fuji has the most fantastic vivid blues but I wasn’t able to photograph it as I’d already been told off for using my camera. The colours hit me with an emotional intensity that was about the colour rather than the substance of the mountain. It would probably have been powerful even as an abstract work. The other painting I loved on the opposite short wall was this one below. The photo doesn’t do it justice. In the actual painting, the colours of the younger Hockney’s clothes just zing out of the canvas and the hills behind have a pointillist effect reminiscent of Pissaro with lots of red dots that echo the jacket. It is the start of what will become a magnificent discovery of colour.
The room after this has a lot of excellent drawings and leads into a small one of his photo collages. The first photo collage I ever saw of these was 20 years ago or more of his mother shot in 30 different poses and stitched together. It reminded me of the 80s montages of photos people made of their family or holidays – the ability to simultaneously look at many related events and jog something bigger in our memory than the sum of the parts. Here by taking many photos of his mother we got a sense of spirit not just a static view. The work that had struck me so hard all that time ago wasn’t here. But there were others of a similar style and aspiration. The one I most liked was of Bill and Audrey Wilder (1982), below, where you can see her elegant movement of her hand as she puffs on a cigarette and can see and sense his fidgety camera hands that she is amused by that might have irritated others as much as today’s phone-glued generation have the capacity to do.
From here we find ourselves in the 80s where Hockney has mastered vibrant colours as an emotional communication medium. Many Hockney lovers will recall the wonderful Royal Academy of Arts show some years ago and will be thrilled as I was to see a few favourites from that back here in this exhibition.
Again I was limited to what I was able to shoot but this gives you a taste. I love this period: joyful and ebullient works (whatever the author was feeling inside).
So where do you go next when you’ve mastered portraits, abstract, philosophy and colour? Answer: technology.
The highlight of the exhibition is the Four Seasons. You stand in a room with each of the four walls around you taken over by a 9 screen grid portraying a video of a country path in Yorkshire. The video has been shot by a car moving very, very slowly supporting 9 cameras each taking overlapping perspective shots that are stitched together on the screen. The net effect of the 9 screens is a much wider perspective than would be given by a wide angled lens. It is much more akin to turning one’s head and looking around one. The winter montage is stunning. Bright white snow, tyre tracks through the snow, the screen flickering as the odd snow flake falls, beautiful lighting. It conjures up the joy and magic of christmas. The other three walls have identical grid layouts of screens, one wall for each season. The path used in each season is the same so simultaneously one can watch the same road in four seasons. I could have sat in this room for hours!
Beyond the Four Seasons is a room with his iPad art.
First it is amazing such good art can be created with an iPad. Second it is lovely because they have a translucent quality and are a whole new medium. Third on one wall we get a speeded up version of the actual creation (Hockney has somehow recorded his brush strokes) and we can watch the entire picture grow form nothing through all the different layers of electronic brush strokes. Again I could have spent hours watching this.
I was at the tennis club later that night and mentioned it to several people. One replied they’d been three times already, another that it was the best show she’d seen in ages.
I highly recommend lunch at the Rex Whistler dining room. It is very stylish -with murals all the way round and a set 2 or 3 course menu with good wine. You absolutely must pre-book which you can do via the website (or phone)
I started with a chalk streams trout (whisky cured with an orange reduction, red chicory and grain mustard) which was very slightly on the thick side but still very good, and then had a marvellous roast hake with Tarragon dish on a reduced crab sauce (divine!) with a generously filled home made crab ravioli, served with courgettes and tomato. I had asked the waiter whether to go for that or the guinea fowl and there wasn’t even a microsecond of hesitation before he started waxing lyrical about the Hake. It was absolutely delicious. The staff were wonderful too and made my mother and daughter catch up a special treat.