Thursday, February 16, 2012

A big splash of colour to brighten our grey times–Hockney at the RA

Art is very personal. That is its strength. If we all reacted in the same way to an artistic stimulus it would stop being Art. A “Stop” sign at a road junction isn’t Art - it is intended that all of us will respond identically to it. We will stop. But “Rigoletto” or “Emma” or “Macbeth” or the “Mona Lisa” are not “Stop” signs - they are creative works that will inspire subtly different response from us all. And do gifted artists know more than those of us who do not have such gifts? Perhaps in a way they do but what about Benjamin Britten and Brahms? Britten was a great composer – perhaps the greatest British composer - but he hated Brahms. Does that mean that because Britten knew all that there was to know about composition, and I know nothing, that my approval of Brahms is just ignorant and unworthy? NO. It simply means that Britten and I have different views on the subject – although I suspect that my approval is the majority view and Britten’s disapproval is uncommon, even perverse! In “The Old Curiosity Shop” Dickens tells a tragic story culminating in the death of the heroine Nell Trent. A tear jerker of course - but remember what Oscar Wilde said “One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.”

This preamble is intended to justify the fact that this brief review is about the Hockney exhibition “A Bigger Picture” at the Royal Academy despite the fact that the reviewer is less than competent in drawing and painting (that’s a euphemism of course – “utterly without talent” would be more accurate). Prepare yourself for an “I don’t know much about Art but I know what I like” piece. Or not. You can stop reading now if you like - I won’t be offended. Does Hockney only want his work to be seen and commented upon by the great and the good of the Art world? Well probably not and certainly not the critics – or all of them. Take Andrew Lambirth in “The Spectator” who ended a coruscating review of Hockney’s exhibition with the words that the artist is “… overrated, overindulged and over here. Couldn’t he go back to Los Angeles?” Well! Mr Lambirth is a pukka Art critic so he knows a bit – but like Britten on Brahms I can choose to disagree with him – and I do.

“A Bigger Picture” is astounding and at the private viewing that I went to almost everyone was smiling some of the time. Not because the painting are overtly funny – although there are a few good jokes – but because the scale and the colour and the imagination and the effort so vigorously on display makes you want to sing with joy. Well you don’t do that at the Royal Academy of course so you smile instead – and maybe do a little discrete jig whilst you’re about it. The paintings are mostly landscapes and mostly quite recent. This is what David Hockney has been working on for the last few years in his home from home in Bridlington. If I was to declare an interest it would be as a fan because at least two on Hockney’s works would be amongst the eight in my “Desert island Paintings” – if such a programme existed. “Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy” (1971) and “A Bigger Splash” (1967) are sublime – in my humble opinion (as the critics never say). I do not revere these paintings as one might be supposed to revere a da Vinci or a Turner. I just like them a lot. Would I want to do a jig in front of “The Last Supper”? Well maybe. But I doubt it. Great Art (capital A) of course and it has its place. As does Hockney who, I suggest, may be no less technically competent than Leonardo was. Would the latter use an iPad, as Hockney does so skilfully, if he were around today? I suspect that he would – he might even have invented it I suppose and sold his invention to Steve Jobs.

This review has no real artistic underpinning. It is perhaps more suitable for a fanzine than a “serious” magazine like the one Mr Lambirth writes for. But I can only say if you can beg, steal or borrow your way into the Royal Academy before 9th April please try and do so. We need some colour and some fun in these grey and trying times. And courtesy David Hockney some is available. Go!


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