“Sweep out those cobwebs… get some fresh air… walk the dog”
These are all expressions that my mother utters of a frequent basis to get back to the “good old outdoors” – the outside in her eyes being the medicine to a plethora of ills. This form of restoration sprung to mind on exiting David Hockney‘s latest exhibition at the Royal Academy – I felt rejuvanated and clear-headed. The only thing missing from this ‘countryside stroll’ was my dog and mud-encased wellies (although I did have my battered Barbour in tow!).
“A bigger picture” features a series of new landscape works inspired by the East Yorkshire landscape, where Hockney grew up. The paintings are large, colourful and, in essence, a homage to the Great British countryside – its seasonality, rolling hills, blossoming hedgerows and angular oak trees (I could continue… ). However, besides the exhibition’s landscape focus, Hockney’s work struck me as a journey in another sense. Moving amongst my fellow urbanites, I got the feeling that the art invited viewers to reappreciate nature and revalue its signficance in our everyday lives. To everyone in the Royal Academy’s impressive galleries, the pictures struck a note of familiarity, but then enhanced this – the fact that Hockney’s landscapes were based more on memories made the work more impressionist. The pictures evoked Hockney’s marvellous imagination as much they represented Yorkshire. Roads became purple, rather than black; felled trees were a warm orange and the prickly blackthorn bush transformed into a tentacle-like, soft and captivating form.
The second thing about the exhibition that reminded me of a country walk was its flow. Now while I hate the word “flow”, here the term has poignancy. As you moved from room to room, it was almost like a game of “I spy” was being played out – new trees, burrows and scenes capturing Hockney’s eye, the frames constituting his images notable for their absence or strength of detail, size of brush strokes and irregular perspective on the traditional British “patchwork” of fields and hedges. The paintings illustrated Hockney’s fastidious commitment to his work, not merely offering one picture of a tree stump but a multitude at different angles, shades and times. I guess that this is what I liked most about “A bigger picture” – Hockney tackling a potentially narrow and traditional subject matter, but achieving this in exuberant and dynamic manner. No wonder the old ladies nattering away in the Royal Academy shop seemed so surprised – Hockney has done a modern generation of artists proud.