Hockney at the RA - 5/5 for fun

February 13 2012

Image of Hockney at the RA - 5/5 for fun

Picture: David Hockney, 'More Crooked Timber on Woldgate', 2008, charcoal on paper.

The critics may have disliked David Hockney's show of new landscapes at the Royal Academy, but I thought it was excellent. Not every work will be seen as a masterpiece, but then the exhibition was never intended to be one of the 'best of' shows we're used to. Instead, it is a display of mostly new works, in a new style, of a curiously new genre in contemporary art; a great British painter painting Britain. In that respect we can allow the artist some failures in return for his certain successes.

Above all, the exhibition is great fun. Giant canvasses combine colour, passion, quirky perspective and sharp natural observation with a flair rarely seen these days. You can't fail to leave without a smile. One thing I immediately noticed in the exhibition was the noise. Normally, contemporary art exhibitions are muted affairs as visitors mentally struggle to understand whatever blob, squiggle or lump it is they are supposed to admire, or admit to their bemusement and wander silently by. But at Hockney almost everyone has a ready comment about each picture (in my experience, overwhelmingly positive comments), and the emerging hubbub of pleasure is a delight to hear.

That said, my favourite works in the show were not the paintings, but the drawings, which on the whole are the best works. Some of them are mesmeric, and reveal just how good an artist Hockney can be when he really tries. I found myself reminded of Van Gogh's charcoal landscapes; both artists share a similarly idiosyncratic view of nature, and are possessed of a similarly fluent ease with which to capture it. Happily, I'm not the only one who likes Hockney's drawings, for in Brian Sewell's otherwise damning review of the exhibition, he let slip this rare nugget of praise:

There was a time in the 1970s when I thought him one of the best draughtsmen of the 20th century, wonderfully skilful, observant, subtle, sympathetic, spare, every touch of pencil, pen or crayon essential to the evocation of the subject, whether it be a portrait or light flooding a sparse room; nothing has made me change that view, but Hockney has tried very hard.

So, do go to the exhibition if you can. In the meantime, you can see other recent Hockney landscape drawings here.

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