David Hockney at the Royal Academy

It has been bitter cold in London – lingering just above and below zero Centigrade for days now. As a Colorado-proud girl where minus 24 Farenheit is “cold,” I shouldn’t mind this weather, but I did not bring warm enough clothing. Today I remembered that I had packed an alpaca shawl for “dress up” – I’ve taken to wearing it over my storm coat. I have that Siberian peasant woman look. If I had an old baby carriage full of potatoes, my babushka look would be complete. I care not. 

treading on thin ice

Ice is forming on the ponds, and it is a treat to see the birds tiptoeing to the edge of the paper-thin ice and then as the ice fractures, taking flight in a flurry of feathers. As I sit here in the flat, I hear precipitation – icy needles against the window. Snow is forecast. We will keep watch and take a midnight walk if we actually get snowfall.

A few early spring flowers, still unfurled (in particular, the yellow crocuses at Queensway Gate) are peeking through the grass, but the city gardeners have been busy transplanting nursery stock as well. Today, I took a hard look at the pansies, primroses, violas, and hellebores – trembling in the wind … they seemed to shiver in the cold.. Will they be there tomorrow?

Yesterday, I braved the cold to catch the David Hockney show at the Royal Academy. I’m not sure I knew what my expectations were, but the show exceeded my expectations on every level. His use of color (one reviewer called his palette “hyper-colored”), and the pulsating and luminous light emanating from each painting was a revelation.

I liked his early work – a charcoal drawing executed at only 18 years of age in the Euston Road School style was one of my favorites. Another early work, this one titled “Flight into Italy” 1962, attracted my attention. In the upper third of the painting, we see primitive, child-like mountains consisting of bands of color – cream, beige, ochre, sienna, gray and red. The bands of color follow the mountains’ contours like geological formations. In the lower right corner is a house. Careening down the painting on a diagonal towards the house is a car. The driver appears to be screaming. The back seat passenger’s face is a cadaver’s – the mouth open – frozen in horror.

In 1963, Hockney moved to L.A. where he lived for 30 years. (Boulder in ’65 and Berkeley in ’67). His life in California led to a greater emphasis on light. Since returning home to roots in East Yorkshire, he has primarily painted landscapes. Huge landscapes, composed of multiple canvases butting up against one another. Sometimes the canvases are multiple views of the same scene; other times the canvases are pieces of a puzzle that constitute a singular scene.

Sometimes he paints the same scene again and again – through the seasons… through dawn to dusk. Try to get your head around the 42 canvases of Woldgate Woods, East Yorkshire. Looking at the landscape through Hockney’s eyes, you cannot be struck by the daily and seasonal changes that occur right beneath your nose. Hockney proves that you do not have to travel, to see life and the landscape with new eyes. You can stay in one place and look with intention. A single landscape changes faster than you can record the changes. I love his use of color: vibrating orange, apricot, red, pink and mauve. And always radio-active green. Hockney’s use of color forces you to see the landscape afresh.

If you cannot get tickets to the Hockney show at the Royal Academy, see what you can on-line at http://www.hockneypictures.com.

“Pear Blossom Highway,” 1986, comes up on the homepage where you check a box and promise not to copy any of the pictures on view. The Pear Blossom Highway is a collage – an apt metaphor for a roadside littered with crushed cans, beer bottles, and dozens of signs that would make Lady Bird Johnson roll over in her grave. Telephone poles and Joshua tree cacti lead the eye. The paved road is the color of dirt. I could taste the dirt. I wanted a drink to rinse out my mouth. Drinking down a ginger beer did the trick.

The following page brings up, “A Bigger Grand Canyon,” 1998. What you see are 60 canvases which measure 81 by 291 inches. What you don’t see is the “homework” that led to the finished product. Hockney took hundreds (thousands?) of photographs and using these photos, he assembled a 180 degree collage on which he based the paintings. The finished product is the Grand Canyon and at the same time, it isn’t the Grand Canyon. In one Grand Canyon painting, for example, we see Shiprock which is a formation in northeast Arizona, not in or near the Grand Canyon. Artistic license.

Most recently, Hockney has been equally recognized and villanized for his celebrated use of Apple’s iPhone and  iPad. Hockney uses the “Brushes” app. “There are other apps,” Hockney says, “but once you get used to one, it’s sufficient.” Always keen to play with light, the luminosity of the iPad heightens the light the Hockney is always looking for. Be sure to check out Hockney’s iPhone/iPad paintings. They are shockingly good.

For further info on Hockney, I recommend listening to an interview with David Hockney at www.channel4.com/news/david-hockney. For a better sense of what you can do artistically with an iPad, see Tami Trayor: iPad Speed Painting using Brushes App at http://vimeo.com/34746268.


Writers’ Prompt:

  • What is your reaction to looking at Hockney’s work? Do you have a favorite piece? What in particular attracts you to it?
  • Hockney rises early – the light from the sun rising over the North Sea changes dramatically. Using an iPad, Hockney has no need to turn on his bedroom light. He works in the dark – drawing a new picture every 20 minutes or so. If you don’t have an iPad, use your camera. Take one picture, the same picture, every 20 minutes for three hours. What do you see? Write about the experience.

About timeout2

I have lived 100 lives. I write essays, short stories, poetry, grocery lists and notes to myself. If I am ever lost, look for a paper trail, but be careful not to trip over any books that lie scattered here and there. I am a reader. I am a reader in awe of writers. When I don't live in Westcliffe, Colorado, I live in London where I am a long-time member of Word-for-Word - Crouch End.
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1 Response to David Hockney at the Royal Academy

  1. Doris, Have you done your midnight walk in the snow? I just looked out of my bedroom window and was thrilled by the untouched beauty and the light. I think I could go down and read a book, it is that bright. Helga

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