The sumptuous well-groomed galleries of the Royal Academy are about to get grassy. A whiff of Bridlington is coming to Burlington House, with those plush crimson walls soon to be covered in a thick layer of foliage. David Hockney is moving in.
“A Bigger Picture” is the first exhibition in Britain devoted to Hockney’s landscapes. The idea came from the RA’s 2007 Summer Exhibition when Hockney submitted “Bigger Trees near Warter”, a whopping canvas more than 12 metres (40ft) wide. An ordinary subject on a record-breaking scale, it didn’t go unnoticed. “He engaged so well with the space, light and sensibility of the gallery,” says Edith Devaney, the co-curator and head of the Summer Exhibition, “that we set him a challenge.” The result is a mammoth show which unveils three new bodies of work and plenty more. Over the last few years, Hockney has swapped the reliable Californian sun for the seasonal light of Yorkshire. Having rediscovered the British landscape, his work has reached new heights, in more ways than one. He has hired his biggest studio to date and is working more rapidly than seems physically possible at the age of 74. The exhibition documents 50 years of work, but it’s the opposite of a retrospective. Once a selection of older work has set the scene, the show looks firmly forwards.
At over six metres wide and nearly three metres tall, “Winter Timber” is a talking point. Like many of Hockney’s recent landscapes, it’s simple, almost childlike, but pithy and full of life. He has that rare ability to turn the ordinary into something quite extraordinary. “Painting is an old man’s game” is his latest soundbite, but this one is doing more than just painting. He is embracing the era of technology and experimenting with new media all the time. He is a great advert for Apple: his iPad has become a sketchbook and over 50 of his drawings on it will be shown here. He has also produced a series of films using 18 cameras displayed on multiple screens. “We get to see the world through Hockney’s eyes,” says Devaney.
If all goes well, the show could establish Hockney as one of the most important landscape artists of our time. “A Bigger Picture” might make an even bigger splash.
~ OLIVIA WEINBERG