david hockney RA: a bigger picture

when you think of david hockney, you might think of his pop art paintings of california swimming pools.

david hockney | a bigger splash | acrylic on canvas | 1967

tate collection | london, united kingdom

photo credit tate

and, david hockney RA: a bigger picture, a blockbuster exhibition at the royal academy of arts (RA) in london from 21 january-9 april 2012, includes a painting with a swimming pool.

david hockney | mulholland drive: the road to the studio | acrylic on canvas | 1980

reproduction | david hockney RA: the bigger picture | 21 jan-9 apr 2012 | royal academy of arts | london, united kingdom

original | los angeles county museum of art (lacma) | los angeles, CA

photo credit lacma

but, david hockney is also a landscape artist.  after showing bigger trees near warter, a 50 canvas painting, at the summer exhibition 2007, the RA offered hockney all of the main floor galleries for a landscape painting exhibition.

david hockney | bigger trees near warter | oil on 50 canvases + two collages of 50 color photographs | 2007

tate collection | london, united kingdom

photo credits (c) david hockney and tate

the exhibition features over 150 works, most created between 2004 and 2011.  although it is an exhibition, instead of a retrospective, a bigger picture includes a survey of earlier landscapes, painted from 1956-1998, that offer an opportunity to reconsider hockney as a landscape artist, instead of a pop artist.

hockney’s work reflects the influences of past artistic movements, such as cubism, impressionism, or fauvism.

hockney also uses optical tools to experiment with the representation of space, the manipulation of perspective, the use of color, and the variation of technique.  the camera is one of hockney’s favorite optical tools.  he photographed the grand canyon in 1982, but didn’t use the photographs to create grand canyon with ledge, arizona, 1982, collage #2, a 60 photograph collage, until 1986.


david hockney | grand canyon with ledge, arizona, 1982 | collage of 60 color photographs | 1986

david hockney RA: a bigger picture | 21 jan-9 apr 2012 | royal academy of arts | london, united kingdom

photo credit (c) david hockney

he described the process of making collages from the grand canyon photographs as a ‘cubist idea.’

‘when you put one piece of paper on top of another…
you put two pieces of time together…
therefore, make[ing] a space.

i thought i was making time.
then, you realize you’re making space.
then, you realize time and space are the same thing.’ 

-david hockney

in 1998, hockney painted a bigger grand canyon from the collages and other studies, and a closer grand canyon from memory.  the multiple viewpoint perspective in both paintings again references cubism.  the grand canyon paintings also reference cubism by translating the grid pattern from the photo collages into a multiple canvas format.  this becomes the standard format for hockney’s large scale works.

david hockney | a bigger grand canyon | oil on 60 canvases | 1998

national gallery of australia (nga) |  canberra, ACT, australia

photo credit nga

david hockney | a closer grand canyon | oil on 60 canvases | 1998

david hockney RA: a bigger picture | 21 jan-9 apr 2012 | royal academy of arts | london, united kingdom

louisiana museum of modern art | humlebaek, denmark

photo credit (c) david hockney
secret knowledge:  rediscovering the lost techniques of the old masters, a book by hockney published in 2001, explores how optical tools, such as the camera, influenced painting composition for over six centuries.
photo credit amazon.com

but, hockney rejects the use of optical tools when he decides to paint the yorkshire landscapes in the exhibition from direct observation.  hockney’s landscapes could define yorkshire like impressionist landscapes defined the south of france.  like monet’s paintings, hockney’s yorkshire landscapes are studies of changing seasonal and light conditions.  sometimes, he paints the same location, such as the thixendale trees, at different times of the year.

david hockney | three trees near thixendale, spring 2008 | oil on 8 canvases | 2008

david hockney RA: a bigger picture | 21 jan-9 apr 2012 | royal academy of arts | london, united kingdom

photo credit (c) david hockney

david hockney | three trees near thixendale, summer 2007 | oil on 8 canvases | 2007

david hockney RA: a bigger picture | 21 jan-9 apr 2012 | royal academy of arts | london, united kingdom

photo credit (c) david hockney

david hockney | three trees near thixendale, autumn 2008 | oil on 8 canvases | 2008

david hockney RA: a bigger picture | 21 jan-9 apr 2012 | royal academy of arts | london, united kingdom

photo credit (c) david hockney

david hockney | three trees near thixendale, winter 2007 | oil on 8 canvases | 2007

david hockney RA: a bigger picture | 21 jan-9 apr 2012 | royal academy of arts | london, united kingdom

photo credit (c) david hockney
other times, he paints the same subject, such as blossoming hawthorne trees, in different locations at the same time of the year.


david hockney | hawthorne blossom near rudston | oil on two canvases | 2008

david hockney RA: a bigger picture | 21 jan-9 apr 2012 | royal academy of arts | london, united kingdom

photo credit (c) david hockney

david hockney | the big hawthorne | oil on 9 canvases | 2008

david hockney RA: a bigger picture | 21 jan-9 apr 2012 | royal academy of arts | london, united kingdom

photo credit (c) david hockney

david hockney | may blossom on the roman road | oil on 8 canvases | 2009

david hockney RA: a bigger picture | 21 jan-9 apr 2012 | royal academy of arts | london, united kingdom

photo credit (c) david hockney

hockney’s yorkshire landscapes are also technical studies.  he experiments with impressionist or fauvist painting techniques, such as pointellist seurat dots, swirling van gogh brushstrokes, or colorful matisse stripes.  and, hockney also experiments with technological tools.  the arrival of spring in woldgate, east yorkshire in 2011 includes a series of 52 prints, drawn on an iPad, that capture the transition from winter to spring along a country road near his home.  as he was drawing, hockney adjusted the color and his technique so that the drawings could be enlarged and printed.

david hockney | the arrival of spring (untitled iPad drawing, 12 april 2011, no. 1) | iPad drawing printed on paper | 2011

david hockney RA: a bigger picture | 21 jan-9 apr 2012 | royal academy of arts | london, united kingdom

photo credit (c) david hockney
the series also includes a 32 canvas oil painting.  the brighter colors, simpler brushstrokes, and bolder composition reflect hockney’s iPad drawing techniques.

david hockney | the arrival of spring in woldgate, east yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven) | oil on 32 canvases | 2011

david hockney RA: a bigger picture | 21 jan-9 apr 2012 | royal academy of arts | london, united kingdom

photo credit (c) david hockney

if you are in london, david hockney RA: a bigger picture is a ‘must see’ exhibition!

click here or here or here or here to read reviews of the exhibition.

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