Saturday, January 20, 2007


As long as I've been properly interested in art (say about 25 years) I've always loved David Hockney's work. For most of this time my adoration has been confined to art-books, never a good source of accurate colour and totally absent in terms of texture and scale. Still the work always connected with me. Even since I've been living in London I've seldom been able to actually stand in front of his work because although the Tate owns quite a few notable pieces (like "A Bigger Splash" for example) they hang them so infrequently that you could be a regular visitor to the the gallery and never see them.

For the last few months we've been lucky enough to have a large retrospective exhibition of Hockey's portraits at the National Portrait Gallery and on Thursday night I went to see it. There's something a little odd about seeing work with which you are very familiar in one form (book reproduction in this case) and seeing the actual work in the flesh. I've always known what an incredible draughtsman he is as sketches in pen or pencil translate more readily from original to repro, paintings seldom fare so well. So whilst I was expecting to be dazzled by the drawings, and I was, I did not know what to expect from the paintings. They did not disappoint. I think the two things which bowled me over most about his paintings are the use of texture and colour, especially the latter. Compared to the actual canvas every print I've seen does such a massive disservice to the original as to be practically meaningless. The choice of colours and their juxtaposition was magical and masterful. I doubt anyone has captured the warm southern Californian sun as well and the vivacious quality that suffuses those first Californian paintings is carried through into all his subsequent work, whether painted in California or not. The paintings from his Bradford and Royal College of Art days, before he moved to the U.S., are so drab in comparison, which is not to say that they are bad paitings, far from it, but it is obvious that as soon as he arrived in California it was as if his eyes opened and his palette exploded with a vibracy never seen before. No-one I can think of since Renior has painted people in such a joyous fashion. The pictures lift the spirits, they excite the eyes and you can almost feel the warmth of the sun on the back of your neck, which in a cold, windy and rainy January in London is a pleasant thought indeed.

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