Monday, February 20, 2012

A Brighter Shade of Yorkshire: David Hockney at the RA


There's no doubt about it, even in a mild winter London is dim and dismal.  When I see TV images of East Yorkshire, though, usually covered by floodwater or threatened by gales, I count my blessings.This happens when a friend, currently  teaching abroad, makes her twice-yearly return  to check on the house that her mother left her, in a village near Hull. I wondered what she'd think of David Hockney's portrayal of her home territory, which contradicts the wind-swept greyness  I remember from my visits.

I'm not really a Hockney fan. His enormous red canvases depicting the Grand Canyon, in a previous exhibition at the RA, seemed flat and lacked drama, which was strange, given the subject's potential. I was underwhelmed, too  by  a giant 'stand of trees' on walls surrounding a staircase at Tate Britain, which seemed to stare back at the viewer in the same insipid manner.

Hockney was apparently inspired to by  road journeys to make these pictures -much of the exhibition is filled with iPad sketches he made while sitting in his car. It's true he sat outdoors when the weather permitted, but even that must have been for brief spells only.  

I attended one  of the preview days of this new exhibition  at the RA,  and was astonished.  Wandering through room after room of these oversized, brightly coloured canvases was like taking a stroll in a magic kingdom. In  depicting the landscape  around his home town of  Bridlington,  Hockney imbues the northern landscape with the brightness of California.

Looking  at  these  technicolour, one might almost say garish, depictions, they   remind  us that when it comes to art what we see is not so important as what  we imagine. It's as if the artist has put the gloss of American glamour over a landscape that too often  seems rather drab and depressing; as if Gauguin painted French landscapes with a  Polynesian palate.

I hate it when people say of a film 'it was nothing like the book' - I want to say, 'Why should it be?'  So I don't know why I should object that these paintings are nothing like East Yorkshire. In fact, I like them much better - they're a definite improvement on the original, in my opinion.

The exhibition continues to April 9th

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