BILBAO.- Organized by the Royal Academy of Arts in collaboration with the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, David Hockney: A Bigger Picture is the first major exhibition held in Spain to celebrate the crucial role landscape plays in the career of this artist, considered the most important living British painter.
Bright landscapes inspired by his native county of Yorkshire form the core of this exhibition which, with Iberdrolas sponsorship, brings together on the Museums second floor around 150 worksoil paintings, charcoals, iPad drawings, sketchbooks and digital videosmost of which have been created in the past eight years. This exhibition offers a unique vision into Hockney's creative world and demonstrates his enormous capacity to represent nature using different techniques, as well as revealing his attachment to the landscape of his youth.
The exhibition also illustrates the extent to which the depiction of the natural environment has been present throughout the artist's career, even when other subjects were the focus of his output. A selection of works from 1956during his student days in Bradforduntil 1998 contextualizes Hockneys later landscapes and reveals his early preoccupation with the representation of space and his use of color and manipulation of perspective to reflect the natural world.
One of the large, petal-shaped galleries designed by Frank Gehry houses Hockney's early works, which come from different public and private international collections and date from the late 1950s, while he was still a student, and the 1960s, such as Flight into Italy Swiss Landscape (1962), a stylized representation of Alpine peaks. Exhibited alongside them are two of his famous photographic collages from the 1980s, Grand Canyon Looking North, Sept. 1982 and Pearblossom Highway, 1118 April 1986 # 1, a work in which a road draws the viewer into the painting, showcasing Hockneys experimentation with perspective and the representation of pictorial space in Cubism.
This same space with curved walls features his two paintings of the Grand Canyon, made in 1998, including the spectacular landscape A Closer Grand Canyon (1998), which is more than seven meters long. From the same year is Garrowby Hill (1998), a work created from memory in the studio after his return to Yorkshire in 1997 to spend time with his friend Jonathan Silver, who was terminally ill and had always supported his career. The drive between his mothers house and his friends deathbed in the town of Wetherby familiarized Hockney further with the landscapes of his youth and inspired a deep interest in and affection for its features.
The Museums classical galleries, the starting point of the exhibition tour, display six series of works created between 2005 and 2009 that reveal Hockeys deep curiosity and energy in embracing the myriad possibilities of landscape art, both when painting from observation and when using his memories and imagination in the studio. As the artist said, We see psychologically through the filter of our personal memories.
The first gallery houses a large group of small-scale oil paintings and watercolors made by the artist in 2004 and 2005 directly from observation. They were painted following the publication in 2001 of Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Masters, in which he argues the enormous influence the camera lens had on painting from the fifteenth century onwards.
When he returned to painting after this period of investigation, Hockney deliberately rejected the cameras influence and started to paint directly from observation. It was an extraordinarily prolific period in which the artist depicted numerous landscapes in Yorkshire, such as Path Through Wheat Field July (2005), Woldgate, 27 July 2005 (2005) and Fridaythorpe Valley, August 2005 (2005), which can be seen in this first gallery.
Also on display along with his watercolors and oil paintings is the representation of a small farm track that the artist refers to as The Tunnel in East Yorkshire. The road or track is a strong motif in his recent landscapes and is also reminiscent of some of his early paintings.
The artist's emotional involvement with the landscape of his childhood and youth is also clear in the series of works The Woldgate Woods and Thixendale Trees created between 2006 and 2008 and on display in the Museums second classical gallery. In these two groups of work Hockney employs the discipline of working in a series, and by doing so focuses attention on the landscapes changing conditions and the subtle modulations of light.
The last gallery shows a representation of the cycle of nature in full through a series of works created by Hockney from both observation and memory and imagination in the studio: from the group called Hawthorn Blossom, which anticipates the arrival of spring through the flowering of the hawthorn, to the Trees and Totems series, in which works such as Winter Timber (2009)more than 6 meters wideshow lifeless felled trees.
The same space also houses a small selection of charcoal drawings of trees and totems (stumps) which the artist painted directly from observation and to which he turned in order to recreate the same subject in the studio.
The Arrival of Spring
Dominating one of the Museums massive, irregular galleries is the monumental The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (Twenty-Eleven), which allows observers to feel how the excitement of this season emerging around them. This glorious tribute to nature is an installation consisting of one large 32 canvas paintings, surrounded by 51 iPad drawings printed out on paper, all of which record the transition from winter through to late spring on a small road in East Yorkshire and reveal Hockneys experience in designing opera sets.
The three paintings of Woldgate that are also on display in this gallery were painted in the studio from the artist's memory and focus on what Hockney himself considered, without judgment, a small subject, but one in which a certain dramatic sense of nature can be perceived.
The Sermon on the Mount
From curving walls to another of the Museums most impressive spaces, the stunning oil painting entitled A Bigger Message (2010), which is more than seven meters long, envelops the viewer. In December 2009, during a visit to The Frick Collection in New York, Hockney was attracted by the work The Sermon on the Mount, painted in 1656 by French artist Claude Lorrain. The fascination he felt for this work lay not in the biblical scene that it portrays, but in the spatial effect Claude achieved.
Subsequently, the artist made a life-size transcription of the painting and then a number of studies, some faithful to the original and others more stylized. The project culminated in the 30-canvas oil painting entitled A Bigger Message. Although much larger than The Sermon on the Mount, this work maintains the structure of Claudes, but in applying his own technique, Hockney transforms the subject
into a monumental work, one message of which is the artful depiction of space.
The same interest in capturing the sublime landscape Hockney found in Claude Lorrains work also prompted the artist to take the Yosemite National Park in America as a subject. Hockney was already familiar with this outstandingly beautiful natural area, but only following his prolonged focus on the Yorkshire landscape did he consider it a possible subject for his large works. His mastery of the iPad enabled him to capture the dramatic light and weather conditions swiftly and adapt his technique to allow for the increased size of the printed images, which represent the most recent and largest works in the exhibition, on view in this space.
Sketchbooks and films
The sketchbooks provide a wonderful insight into both the inspiration behind many of the paintings in the exhibition and their composition.
The exhibition also shows the artist's interest in new technologies throughout his career: from his early use of the Polaroid camera, his innovative incorporation of the color copier and use of the iPhone and iPad; in addition, this interest is especially evident in a number of new films produced with up to 18 cameras, which are presented on multiple screens, showing the use of the techniques developed in his
paintings in video format and transporting the visitor on a bewitching journey through David Hockneys eyes.