David Hockney blockbuster exhibition thrills London

A Bigger Picture is the name of the David Hockney exhibition – and it really is filled with big pictures, all of them landscapes.   A good thing too, because the Royal Academy's intimate galleries are crammed with sell-out crowds.  So, unlike other blockbuster exhibitions, you can actually see the work.

But even if the pictures were smaller you would see them and feel them. This side of Van Gogh you won't see brighter colored landscapes.  But where Vincent's works take color to the brink of madness, Hockney takes color to the level of celebration and joy.  In doing so he makes the green and pleasant English countryside into something epic.

It's a point underscored by the first gargantuan painting visitors encounter, a view of the Grand Canyon painted in the mid 1990's.  Most of the rest of the show are pictures of his native Yorkshire countryside, a decidedly less spectacular landscape yet he manages, through vivid lavenders, golds, purples and greens and a light whooshing style to make this dowdy world seem every bit as magnificent as the American west.  Hockney has lived in LA since the early '60's and clearly has had an American sense of space and brightness grafted onto his retina.

In all seasons the Yorkshire landscape is like a good tweed, a delicate weave of browns, greys, greens, reds and the occasional golden thread. Rain is always threatening, or a shocking blast of wind blowing in from the North Sea.  I have been hiking in Yorkshire in June, started out in shorts and t-shirt because the temperature was a humid 70 plus and damn-near died of exposure as a single cloud on the horizon rushed over at jet speed, slashing the temperature by a good 15 degrees and showering ice across me.

Hockney's vision made me forget the reality and see a wondrously lush world – a world that belongs entirely to his creative mind.

To the joy of the show's paintings you have to add astonishment at the man.  He is 75 but has the mind and energy of someone just starting out. Literally dozens of the pictures were done in the last 18 months. And the way they were done: on an iPad with a painting app. Don't ask me how he does it.  He just does.  The finished pictures are printed out directly from the iPad. There is also a room with a video installation of 18 adjacent monitors showing video of the country lanes and fields he paints. The camera pans slowly across the same spot in two seasons, the images are projected side by side.  Trippy is a reasonable adjective to use to describe the result.  So is mesmerizing.

The exhibition is on in London until April 9th.  It opens at the Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain on 14 May and runs until 30 September. Then goes to the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany where it opens 29 October.

Sadly, there is no plan to bring the show to America. But this link will take you to some YouTube video of the exhibit so those of you stuck on that side of the Atlantic can experience it vicariously.  It is worth a look.

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