David Hockney Exhibition at Tate Britain

Ever since art school I have found the most famous works of Hockney, such as the Hollywood portraits and interiors, very sterile, soulless, lacking any vital life element. He has an architects knack for precision, producing works that are void of spirit. 

Notes from Tate Britain exhibition

Figures: they appear dead, dumb or over-posed. 

Landscapes and perspective: ‘Portrait of an artist (pool with 2 figures)’ 1972 is the most striking. The the composition is pleasing, alluring. Still the main figure is pantomimed.

The Grand Canyon studies are very striking, pulling the viewer to the edge of a cliff but many of the others seem cartoonish. Perhaps they have the hallucinogenic appeal of careening about the Pacific Coast Highway in sports car, roof down.

Photo montages - dated.

As a draughtsman Hockney has obvious talent but doesn’t seem to translate it very well into art. In depiction of trees and other pictures where he loosens his attachment to detail, the work comes undone and looks amateurish. 

Impressionist rather than expressionist; this is implied as good at doing impressions. His drawing of the Imperialist echoes Picasso’s satirisation of General Franco. His contortions of the figure in some earlier works echo Bacon. The Typhoo Tea painting, an obvious reaction to Warhol. All good but derivative.

So far in the exhibition I feel that Hockney is undoubtedly revered but comes over me like a dull thud. I’m starting to rush through the rooms and have to knuckle down and revisit. There’s a feeling that I’m trapped in the Magazine Supplement of a 1970’s Sunday newspaper.

Playful sketches on iPhone

And there it is. Unexpectedly best in show. The iPhone sketches are blown up on large screens and hang in a darkened room. They recreate the drawing strokes that Hockney makes to bring them into existence. 

They are formed hypnotically in front of our eyes, often surprising us with a rapid succession of strokes pulling the image together. 

There’s a wonderful use of colour here that works better than in some of the pictures in the adjoining rooms. It’s vibrant and often incandescent. 

They remind me of the emerging portraits of London Underground workers created by Dryden Goodwin, a few years ago. Watching Goodwin’s portraits emerge on the web and hearing their conversation as the image appeared seemed magical. 

There’s a fantastic detail to Hockney’s iPhone pictures given the conditions of work on a tiny screen. Blown up they hold that magic.


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