Sunday, 8 April 2012

Another gulp by the culture vultures: David Hockney conspicuously consumed

Bob and I went to see the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy today - Easter Sunday, 8th April 2012 (we had a timed ticket for 6.30pm). Despite the crowds, there was much to enjoy. Room after room glowing with views of the lush green (or mellow hazy purples, oranges and browns) of the yorkshire countryside. Wall after wall stuffed full of images. The impact was one of accumulation rather than individual focus.

Bob consumes exhibitions ridiculously quickly. He called me selfish for not being willing to bolt my own visual banquet, since he then had to hang around long enough to get very VERY tetchy about the wait. But I simply could not digest the feast any quicker!

Having gone through all (but one) of the rooms, I tracked back to the start and walked through again one more time, more quickly this time, just trying to fix in my memory the lasting traces of each room's effect (affect?) on me, and the highlights that 'spoke' to me (singing off the walls) here and there.

The very first circular room had four paintings of the same scene with three trees, portraying the four seasons. Winter in this room was an out and out highlight for me - I bought the mug with this image on it (one way to consume art: I like getting to see it frequently in this form).

The second room was of early landscapes - some of them all time wonders, such as the grand canyon and the Mulholland Drive ones. And another couple of highlights for me were to be found in the third room, the first yorkshire landscapes - with wonderful stripey plough-lines in the fields, the patchwork of fields and the swooping, curving road (this latter one now adorning my fridge as a fridge magnet). (A different example from this room is shown below)

A less successful section was the wall of watercolour sketches in the next room. Hockney's watercolours just look crass; he does not use the delicacy of the medium but rather just ends up with faded muddy approximations of his oils. The wall of smallish landscape oils seemed to me an example of when more is somehow less - the huge number of images almost devaluing each one as an individual painting. At right angles, on the wall opposite the watercolours, was a much larger vibrant yellow oil painting which stood out as a particular favourite. 

The next room (5), was Tunnels. On first encounter I liked several of these, but on my repeat 'walk-through' they didn't stand out (although I did like the effect of so many images of the same scene with each looking so different; in this case the cumulative effect was enhancing and effective).

Room 6 was Woldgate Woods - Six massive canvases focussing on the same scene. One or two I liked better than the others, but again no particularly strong highlight, but rather an enjoyment of them in juxtapostion.

Room 7 - Hawthorn blossom - had one singing highlight, with a delightful picture that made me literally smile with pleasure when I first turned to look at it. But in the same room there were also some heavy, lumpy pictures which (for me) didn't really capture the delicacy and frothiness of abundant white blossom (whereas, oddly, the charcoal studies did). Some of the pictures were, however, appealing for other reasons - reminding me of alien landscapes with vivid exaggerated colours and weird bulky white shapes, like aliens

Trees and Totems (No 8) was my absolute favourite of all the rooms. And I loved, loved LOVED the biggest of the works, with the fauvist intensity of the colours (purple and rich yellow ochre) and the simplified graphic style of the shapes, and the sinewy lines. These are studio works, based on many charcoal studies. The imaginative freedom reduces the sense of 3D space in the final works (compared with those painted fast in situ) BUT the flatter decorative surface and intensity of colour really zing! This was the only postcard I purchased (a consumer again) It is currently attached (by magnetic clip) to the fridge. Nom nom nom.

In the Arrival of Spring room (No 9) the much vaunted ipad art was effective but overblown - they did not really translate well to the vastly enlarged print size. On the other hand, viewed from the distance of half-way across the room, they did 'work'. I did, however, love the huge 32 canvas work on the remaining wall - stylised and decorative, (reminding me a little of Gauguin - or perhaps I mean Matisse, I'm not sure which!) - and this was another work which translates very well to the form of mug decoration for my continued enjoyment
Next was the Sermon on the Mount room (No 10). The final and largest work in here left me rather cold - the orange mountain/rock just looked silly I thought. The less exaggerated, more naturalistic version of the picuture was ok, but again it struck me as a bit ho hum. The only work that piqued my interest was the (almost humorous) study with the mountain now a cosmic pyramid shooting out rays of energy (or something like that!). I suppose part of the trouble with the Sermon on the Mount project may have something to do with the interest in the landscape being to the detriment of the original spiritual focus of the Claude Lorrain painting which Hockney was reworking here. 

The moving (but not moving in the emotional sense!) multiple images in the video room (No 11) didn't convince - more headache and eye-ache than anything else. 

But beyond that room was another which I almost missed out (and I later helped another couple who were in danger of omitting it in error), a tiny dark cave-like space, cocooning the secret heart of the exhibition, in the shape of sketch-books and actual ipads (Room 12). This was very much one of the highlights for me - and I only wish I could have spent longer looking at every single image in the slideshow for each sketchbook (the sketchbooks themselves being in the glass cases, open at one double-spread page each, but with an electronic slideshow on a screen above). 

And then in the final room (No 13)  (or two rooms, due to a major central partition) - there were recent works. First a set of several HUGE ipad prints of Yosemite Valley - which, despite him questioning the overblown size for the unsubtle nature of these ipad images, held up as overall favourites in the exhibition for Bob. I remain torn. Part of me just thinks 'ego' when I see the images enlarged to such a ridiculous size when originally created at the size of an ipad. But at the same time, they do have an impact and the simplicity of line and shape 'works' - as long as you don't go up and peer at them. You have to stand back and then the scale can have the right impact. Round the dividing wall and the very final space featured a few more of the studio pictures with vivid colours and  almost abstracted shapes, with oddly floating disembodied glowing green leaves in the very forefront of the picture's surface. Another pleasing graphic design for endless reproduction.

 The colour pallette of both these final works - and those in the Trees and Totems room -  were cleverly turned into beautiful (abstract) silk scarves in the Hockney shop. But I resisted the temptation, beautiful as they were.

I further exasperated Bob by spending another sizeable chunk of time in the shop - selecting the two mugs, the fridge magnet and the postcard mentioned above, in addition to the full (expensive!) exhibition catalogue.

By the time I joined him outside he was nigh on apoplectic, which meant that the journey home was rather unpleasant. He kept calling me selfish, because I (as always) got what I wanted and didn't compromise (ie by spending much longer than he wanted to spend looking around the exhibition) - but the sacrifice he was insisting I should have made would have been too much for me to bear: ie to leave the exhibition prematurely - when Bob was sated but I wasn't. Like leaving a play at the interval, or having one's gourmet meal whipped away after the first few mouthfuls, just because another diner had eaten as much as they wanted.

I don't know what the answer will be for future exhibitions - can we ever manage to go to exhibitions together without falling out over the difference in the amount of time we each want to spend there? Can I speed up a bit without feeling miserable about it? Perhaps Bob should just be free to go on home and leave me to it. (I'm sure the time of day didn't help on this occasion - even early evening is not a Bob-friendly time slot. I've now got huge concerns about the theatre tomorrow evening. Forcing Bob to come with me may prove to be a terrible mistake - he's almost decided already not to like it cos he feels press-ganged into going.)

 (I don't recall us falling out so badly over the other exhibition we went to recently: the Yayoi Kasama one. Did I go faster than I would have wanted to, left to my own devices? Did I compromise?? I can't really remember. But certainly Bob didn't get sooooo cross - I don't recall him getting cross at all - and he enjoyed the shop bit almost as much as I did on that occasion (we spent even more money on exhibition-related items that day!)

Our journey home was dreadful - misjudgement after misjudgement made for a horrible combination of tube, replacement rail bus, ordinary bus, longish walk, and then (finally) car. But we managed to achieve an equilibrium, with mugs of tea, so that if not altogether fond we were at least no longer furious by the time Bob turned in (at a surprising late - for him - 10pm)

So, there you have it - art and marital issues. Chomp, chomp chomp.

(Post script: Bob really enjoyed the play - 'The Recruiting Officer' the following night, as did I. Very relieved, I must say!)

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