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David Hockney RA - A Bigger Picture

Royal Academy, 2nd March 2012

With expectations high and buoyed by media coverage, 56 of us set off by coach for the "hot ticket" of the season on the London art scene. A start at 8.15 am from Cranleigh and an uneventful journey through morning traffic saw us arriving at the Royal Academy in good time to enjoy a reviving cup of coffee prior to an interesting and instructive lecture by Delores Le Fanu, Art Historian.

She showed us slides of some of the pictures that we would see, together with information about how to view them and attempt to understand Hockney's brilliant perceptions. She emphasised the importance which Hockney placed on his early training at the Bradford School of Art in the skill of draughtsmanship and his opinion that no artist worth his salt could develop to full potential and move on and diversify without having that skill. His early life and works in East Yorkshire were mentioned prior to his departure to the warmth of Southern California, having already made a name for himself. Hockney includes some of his early American work in the exhibition, showing how he developed and highlighting the difference in his landscapes when he returned to work in Yorkshire. To prepare us for the size of the works, she explained that he is trying to express his awe of space. To both draw the observer into the picture and also to give the wider view of peripheral vision - something which a photograph seems incapable of doing whilst still achieving a 3D perspective. A near object reaches the bottom of the canvas and puts us level with it and on the brink of walking into the view. No living thing clutters the picture because, as he says, we the viewers are the living part of the scene as we wander through it and he wants us to see what he sees both in the present and from memory. His involvement and care in the setting up of the exhibition is testament to this.

Armed with these helpful pointers and after a lunch break, we went into the exhibition to be confronted immediately by a large canvas of a Spring scene in a wood, because, as he explained, Spring comes suddenly upon us after a long cold winter - and it was our baptism into his countryside too. His enormous paintings, painted initially in his Mother's attic in Bridlington, are composed of many canvases side by side. Although the gallery was crowded, there was enough space to view the works from an appropriate distance, and the further away one got, the more amazingly impressionistic the pictures became and glimpses of things to come through the next doorway were incredible. We moved from the vibrancy of the early Californian pictures, where he utilised the more advanced acrylics available there, to the photo-collages of the Grand Canyon and Pearblossom Highway - chopped up photos composing grids of grandiose scenes. Movement is depicted along a flat perspective, with winding highways and remembered landmarks along the way.

The pictures produced after his return to East Yorkshire from 2007 onwards, were by contrast a slow discovery of the countryside of his birth - by careful observation of the same trees and views during different seasons and at different times of the day - all very Monetesque and very beautiful. These views became even more full of impact as he moved into more primary colours, either complimenting or starkly contrasting to get the dramatic effect required - as in those of the chopped down tree that he called the "Totem". He experimented with water colours to achieve changing light and he pays homage to other brilliant artists such as Picasso whose work he greatly admires by painting in the Cubist style for example. Always ready to use any new technology, he is now painting and experimenting with an iPad, asking why would he not utilise something available that frees him up from carrying large amounts of equipment around. His latest printed depictions of this medium which we saw, such as that of Yosemite, were wonderful and show great inventiveness and maybe a new direction for future work.

For those of us not too over-stimulated by all that we had seen on our journey through this large exhibition, we were then able to see a film that he has produced and orchestrated - with the help assistants - by mounting nine synchronised, high definition video cameras to the front of a Jeep. Different scenes were shot by each camera, but together they all formed one large and changing scene, illustrating techniques used in his pictures. Hockney will employ any effect or technology to portray what he wants to express and at 74 yrs, there is no sign that he intends to stop doing so.

We left the Academy feeling privileged to have seen the exhibition and despite the Friday evening exit traffic from central London on the way home, nothing diminished our enjoyment of an excellent outing.

Brenda and Alan Jennings