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David Hockney, A Bigger Picture, Royal Academy London

PostPosted: Sun Jan 22, 2012 10:41 am
by jasperjoffe

Hockney, with Sergeant, Lowry, and perhaps Velazquez was one my favourite artists as a teenager. I only ever looked at his paintings in a book. I still admire his unusual (in the contemporary art business) variety of styles and approaches to making pictures.

This show has got terrible reviews, which I thought meant that it would be good (I still think there are double standards, landscape paintings are judged against the very best such as Corot, Constable, Van Gogh. Other art such as video, spots, etc is discussed in terms of its content, as though there are no good ideas such as philosophy, literature, movies to compare conceptualish art to?).

Having run the gauntlet of the frenzied bourgeoisie (I HAVE TRIED TO print this ticket, I AM NOT WAITING any longer, angry middle class art lovers with gritted teeth are vile, but I guess we hold them to higher standards than angry poor people) I did my best to prove the critics wrong. I thought of the anger Guston's figurative paintings had first aroused, I thought of ugly beautiful, I tried, I sat down, I went back and forth trying to appreciate this show.

I failed. THIS IS A VERY UGLY SHOW. It is a visual assault. Mostly it looks like someone who has wasted much expensive paint and canvas. Too much shiny Michael Harding. Too many colour contrasts. Too many dashes for leaves and flowers. Hockney: Leaves have shapes. There is no sense of light or space. The paint is really ugly. The same thing over and over and over. Why not get a bigger van if you want to do big plein air landscapes and stop having these annoying breaks in the paintings. Hockney is very good at drawing and can't paint, Picasso had the same problem, but solved it by not trying so hard and being a genius.

When you get to the HD video section of the same landscape it is like getting off a plane and breathing fresh air. Wow, beautiful leaves, and light, all with distinct shapes, not horrible bits of patterned paint. A big crowd is gathered round the tv sets. The printed out Ipad drawings are so kitsch as to be almost good, like fake paintings printed on canvas.

People do seem happy in the exhibition, they wander round with smiles admiring the pretty landscapes. People want beauty and things that are obviously beautiful. Perhaps this is Hockney's big joke, a massive show at the Royal Academy, bastion of what's left of the muddled classes institutional delight in figurative painting, of nice landscapes which is in fact meant to be REPULSIVELY ugly and yet no-one, except elitist critics, notices or cares..

Re: David Hockney, A Bigger Picture, Royal Academy London

PostPosted: Tue Jan 24, 2012 6:07 am
by CAP
The Bigger Picture:
Hockney is very good at drawing and can't paint, Picasso had the same problem, but solved it by not trying so hard and being a genius.

I actually think Hockney peaked in about 1968. Here's one from the show that puts later stuff to shame. A couple of trips to Cali and he was spoiled. As a quirky outsider, he had charm, insouciance. He was young and hip (the bleached blonde crewcut, lame jacket, etc) the gay northern blade in Swinging 60s London - was one of the RCA 'bad boys'. Which was not the same as being, say, a Hornsey or Camberwell badboy (which really is being bad). But still, as an international jetsetter and luvvy of the 70s, he quickly became embarrassing. His theatre designs are OK - if you're into low camp. He took coloured pencils to new heights - to be followed by a stampede of minor illustrators (many female) who all seemed to hang out at the Thumb Gallery in Soho, in those days.

But for 40 years or so he's been indulged by the art establishment and his meagre skills as a painter, stunted aesthetics and old-fart personality have bloated and decayed. Did you see that vast series devoted to his pet Dachshunds in the 80s?/90s?). It was just sad frankly. The lot of the aging queer? Well only if one's life has been as shallow and hedonistic as DH. All that pinching young men's bottoms at Hayward previews in the 70s...

Against that, there's his photography/compositing and arguments for the secret use of mirrors by Renaissance artists, particularly the Flemish. In some cases there - like Holbein - I'm inclined to agree with him actually. But where exactly was all that supposed to be leading? It certainly didn't do anything for his own painting and the composited films/videos still just look like gimmicks.

Like Andre Derain, his career shapes as one long disappointment following a brilliant debut.

Very decorative or camp at its mildest.

Re: David Hockney, A Bigger Picture, Royal Academy London

PostPosted: Tue Jan 24, 2012 6:45 pm
by jasperjoffe
seems a bit harsh

Re: David Hockney, A Bigger Picture, Royal Academy London

PostPosted: Tue Jan 31, 2012 6:40 am
by CAP
For a more positive review, see the German critic, Hans Pietsch, writing for Art - Das Kunstmagazin- Even a Google Translation will spell out Hans' enthusiasm for Hockney's constant experiment and curiosity. It's true of course, but my thinking is more 'Jack-of-all-trades master of none...' The reason he never really finds a touch as a painter, is because he keeps getting distracted by technology or technicalities.

But on a kinder note, and thinking more about his Late Style landscapes, there is something both thoroughly consistent and more challenging in trying to render the countryside as theatrical, artifice - in confronting nature at it's most forthright with stylisation and the decorative. Why he is inclined to this would take too long to argue, but his interest in the theatrical (not in Fried's sense - in the more straightforward sense of suggesting pretence or artifice) is longstanding, is present in his paintings long before he designs sets. It encompasses figure's costumes, gestures, decor and all manner of design. He likes things standing for something else, or more exactly, alluding to them in a slightly distanced or detached way. That's a huge part of camp right there.

I'm convinced the reason he paints them on such a grand scale is to recall theatre backdrops, literally. His shrill colour sense also seems to date from his experience lighting theatre sets - not that that makes it any more bearable. But thinking about the scale also recalled some of Alex Katz's very large landscapes. City Landscape 1995 is about 6 metres wide, much like one of the bigger Hockey's. And as you can see, like David, Alex favours extreme simplification and stylisation. The difference is Katz miraculously retains a vivid touch, even when he's similarly dappling or suggesting shimmering foliage, the dabs have nuance, shape, and liveliness that just comes across as heavy-handed and mechanical in Hockney. Katz I think the more dedicated painter.

So the project I think is worthwhile, but I'm still not really sold on Late Hockney. Thinking some more about them, it might be an idea if he looked at Late Dufy. Raoul Dufy started off as a minor Fauve (shares Hockney's vivid colour sense but judges it better) and then by force of circumstance spent 20 years or so working as a textile designer: scarves and stuff. Anyway, toward the end of his career (after WW2) he got back into painting in a big way and brought a more intense decorative quality to his, still, basically stippled landscapes. He was commissioned to cover the 1954 Coronation, believe it or not. VERY HOCKNEY TERRITORY. Dufy is usually dismissed as a timid Matisse follower, but this is to miss his distinctive drawing (more traditional than Matisse, cute even, but great fluency and elan - the equal of Matisse - had Matisse ever learned to draw properly. That said, I know Dufy is hardly top rank, but a useful comparison for Late Hockney. :)

Re: David Hockney, A Bigger Picture, Royal Academy London

PostPosted: Tue Jan 31, 2012 10:16 am
by jasperjoffe
yes the katz comparison is apt

Re: David Hockney, A Bigger Picture, Royal Academy London

PostPosted: Sun Feb 12, 2012 5:52 pm
by jasperjoffe
hmm, just read your second piece more carefully CAP, interesting, like the comparision with Dufy (underrated) and the idea about a theatrical equivalent. Clownish landscapes?

Re: David Hockney, A Bigger Picture, Royal Academy London

PostPosted: Mon Feb 13, 2012 4:22 am
by CAP
The Dufy examples I've linked to, are not really the ones I was hoping for. Maybe I should have Googled longer or deeper or whatever. But mainly I'm just lobbing the comparison out there, in the interests of a little more adventurous criticism than has appeared on Hockney so far.

This site should demonstrate that we don't have to launch into obscure continental social theory or Jonathon Jones-like peevishness to strike a few sparks in the critical dialogue!

The idea of 'clownish' landscapes is intriguing - that's closer to his original (60s) whimsical/campy inclinations! - and if one can recover or appreciate the Late Landscapes, I suspect something like that has to be in play.

Incidentally - on the Katz tip - I recently saw the trendy US Indie feature Marta Marcy May Marlene (at your local Odious... I will write a film review shortly) which is mostly set in the leafy country retreats of Connecticutt and the settings reminded me a lot of Katz's landscape paintings - all lush foliage silhouettes, shimmering lakes and white weatherboard villas for the well-to-do - very Katz territory!

Re: David Hockney, A Bigger Picture, Royal Academy London

PostPosted: Mon Feb 13, 2012 10:56 am
by jasperjoffe
Thanks CAP, Think I am making some progress to like these Hockney clown landscapes. May go once more, if they are seen as absurd, jokey, just using the outlines of landscapes to fill with extreme colour and jarring ugly marks that could be what they are doing. Hockney's statements, blah blah about the season would then be false or misleading, sleight of hand? Here is our subtle english landscape of constable rendered brash.

Re: David Hockney, A Bigger Picture, Royal Academy London

PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 9:51 pm
by Featherblend

You have to check out Brian Sewel's reviwe of the show : )

Although it has its problems I enjoyed this show, especially the first half, and found it reassuring to see some inconsistencies in a place like the Royal Academy.

The shifting point in this huge exhibition came in the fourth room with work entirely produced by direct observation. The wonderful, exuberant landscapes suddenly fell flat and became more formal and conventional. Although the accurate recording of nature and painterly brushwork continued to impress it seems the main ambition became about scale and production volume rather than about innovation. Based on theories developed in his book; Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters, Hockney seems to have rebelled against the limitation in the use of cameras and optical devices only to limit his own imagination and then go on to use cameras and iPads in his own work! That is not to say that these work do not show incredible skill and inventiveness in depicting the world with a brushstroke but they have become less edgy and less dynamic by using single point perspective, measured proportions and formal composition. * "he runs very close to a school of mucky, chancy English landscape painting that is already ubiquitous – and degraded by its overfamiliarity."

Hockney seems to have tried to make a reprieve for these duller observations by reintroducing an acidic colour range and naivety which was prevalent in his student work and studio landscapes in rooms one to four. One visitor commented that; " I'm sure if you took LSD thats what woods would look like!". Using complimentary yellow's and purple's, or clashing red's and green's, the paintings that dominate the last quarter of the show contain moments of beauty (in the form of the Woldgate Woods series) but also straddle the line between the eye wateringly garish and the chocolate box, pretty picture. So much so that;* "Bambi would be comfortably at home in all these paintings".

The central room is filled with iPad print outs which Hockney has been using as an alternative sketchbook. I thought these were the worst part of the show. These cringe worthy doodles look like they have been made on any generic scribble program as the dislocated, pixelated dots, glassy blurring effect, and spaghettied lines float above each other on visibly different layers. * " They look almost wipable. They can never hide their electronic origins, no matter how painterly they appear. There's something inescapably dead and bland and gutless about them."

* Adrian Searle, The Guardian 16/01/12

* Brian Sewel, The Evening Standard, 19/01/12

* Adrian Searle, The Guardian 16/01/12