Tate Britain now opens its weekend doors from 8am for members, which markontour is taking as a sign of progress in otherwise dark times. So it was that my bike and I navigated the deserted early morning streets of London Town to enjoy the Tate’s David Hockney retrospective (well, actually the bike stayed outside for the exhibition itself, but markontour had a good look around).
Until this morning, I confess to knowing very little about David Hockney or his art beyond the really famous stuff like ‘A Bigger Splash’. Thus, while markontour usually eschews audio guides on this occasion it was well worth it, not least because the artist himself provides much of the commentary.
Thus I learned that Hockney’s jokey’Flight into Italy – Swiss Landscape‘ emanated from a much anticipated student road trip through the Alps, which the artist was dismayed to be forced to endure from the back of a window-less mini-van. Thus the mountains are necessarily abstract and reproduced from a geological diagram rather than from memory.
Equally arresting from the early rooms is ‘The Hyponist‘, depicting a sinister looking man, perhaps on a stage, firing magic at an equally scary figure, who looks equally capable of striking back. The visual experience is enhanced by knowing it was inspired by a scene in a Vincent Price and Peter Laurie film, ‘The Raven’, during which the protaganists engage in a sorcery duel.
Arranged in chronological order, this twelve room retrospective takes in the full sixty years of Hockney’s prodigious output to date. A bit like David Bowie, Hockney clearly likes to experiment and there are very discernible periods and shifts in style, the most dramatic of which occurred when Hockney moved from England to California in the 1960s. Suddenly the colours change from dark and dull to stunningly vivid, especially the sky and swimming-pool blues.
I think this is the most famous stuff and I did enjoy it, not least the ‘Savings and Loan Building‘ in Santa Monica – a boring glass office turned into art on canvas. The portraits that follow are also stunning, especially ‘My Parents‘ (below), with Mother sitting erect and posing dutifully while Father fidgets and flicks through an art book. It’s all very Edwardian, despite being painted in the 1970s.
The collection in ‘A Bigger Photography’ is also really clever, with Hockney building up photographic collages out of hundreds of close-up shots, with the aim of providing a view that is more akin to how we process visual information in real life. But things really got going for markontour when Hockney returned again to his native Yorkshire in 2006.
Returning to paint and canvas (“I do not think the world looks like photographs. I think it looks a lot more glorious than that”), Hockney also fell back in love with the English weather. I could have stayed all day in ‘The Wolds’ room, drinking in Hockney’s plein-air explorations of the colours of nature. ‘Woldgate Woods‘ and, even more so, ‘May Blossom on the Roman Road‘ have a lot of Van Gogh about them, at least to this untrained eye. If you stare for long enough at the latter you feel invited to step onto the garish pink path and into the painting.
‘The Four Seasons‘ next door examines the changing English landscape through multi-screen video. It’s hard to describe the sensation, but it felt like looking at both a static snapshot and a video simultaneously. The effect is mesmerising.
All in all, it’s a markontour ten out of ten for Tate Britain’s new policy of rising early. I’ll need a few more trips early doors to understand Hockney properly, but if nothing else I now know that he is amazing and am in possession of an opinion about which is Hockney’s best period (the 21st century stuff). I have also experienced the smug feeling of being one bite into a pain au chocolat before the queuing hordes invade the Djanogly cafe. Now to pedal home before Ms Markontour arises..