By Mike Wade
Back at the start of the millenium, Leagas Delaney and Tony Scott created a series of memorable TV commercials for Barclay’s Bank, called “Big”. In one of them, Sir Anthony Hopkins theatrically extolled the virtues of bigness in life – Barclay’s being, he told us, a very big bank indeed.
As impactful and splendidly crafted as they were, they soon got pulled. It seemed that the message was out of synch with the times: big was no longer beautiful. And it hasn’t been ever since.
Big watches, big cars, big portions and big hair are now seen as signs of vulgarity. They’re blowsy, showy, immature and unrefined – like three sugars in one’s tea or a supersized double Big Mac meal.
It’s Kate Middleton who’s the role model these days, not Katie Price.
Yet it’s not the same with art.
Big sculptures and paintings continue to abound.
“Imagine how hard I was to do”, they shout at us. Really? Wouldn’t it be harder to paint on a grain of rice than the wall of a room?
Not so, say the Hocknescenti, of his latest show at the RA.
Here he treats us to canvasses so big that they are actually several canvasses stitched together. Way bigger than the Monet’s which in part inspired him. In fact, not far short of the side of a bus, (no, not a bus side, the whole side of a bus).
He has used this scale to replicate nature, specifically aspects of the Yorkshire countryside in which he grew up and which he continues to visit, champion and work in. Giant canvasses painted in fields.
What’s more, when you’re painting in a field, nobody can stop you having a fag – a pastime Mr Hockney remains unfashionably devoted to. One which does not appear to have diminished his lifespan or vigour – for his work rate and his passion would shame artists half his age.
So his latest works are bigger and bolder than anything he has done before. Is this just showing off, proving that there’s life in the old dog yet? This time, has he gone too far?
Not a bit of it. They work extraordinarily well – in part because of the technical skill of the painting and in part for the same reason that widescreen TV or film works, for they are not just big, they are frequently oblong, too
Our eyes take in the world through a letterbox shaped field of vision, rather than the more traditional A4 landscape painters tend to adopt. Using a widescreen aspect ratio draws us into paintings, engaging us more fully and exciting our senses more organically.
But bigger canvasses usually mean cruder brushwork, especially if you produce work at the speed David Hockney likes to. And this is indeed a problem with some of these paintings, unless you are viewing them from thirty feet away, (which is pretty hard to do in a crowded gallery).
Nevertheless, the curators are backing bigness as the centrepiece of the show, and while I applaud it, I don’t see it as the pinnacle of this exhibition.
For me that begins in the 51 preparatory “sketches” undertaken in the first half of 2011, while planning ‘Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire’, and culminates in the work he did during the second half of 2011, in Yosemite National Park. Here he created his first big ipad canvasses. Yes, supersized works derived from a humble ipad.
These are big prints, blown up over six or more large sheets, despite having been created on a small screen, Hockney having carefully created them in a scale suitable for this factor of enlargement.
The ipad allows a blending of techniques which no traditional medium could permit: glowing lines, tiny scratches, blurry mistiness, translucency, sharp colour. Hockney is masterful with it, proving that, yes, an old dog can learn new tricks, even relish learning them, providing he’s a quality dog.
They need to be seen in the flesh for the full, subtle effect, and we don’t have permission to reproduce the Yosemite sequence, but here is an example of the technique, Hockney-style:
I reckon this breakthrough work means it’s well worth trying to get along, but will you make it?
Well, not very likely, I’m afraid. Despite being open until midnight some nights, the show is still pretty much sold out. The queues stretch round the courtyard. The waiting can be of sufficient duration for you to knock out an ipad sketch or two of your own…..
But if you can get there, it’s a big treat.
Creating a big stir.
Attracting big crowds.
(And if it’s ever sold, bound to command big prices).
Leagas Delaney would be proud.