The Leonardo Da Vinci show at the National Gallery sold out months in advance. People were camping out front to secure a place in the queue – sometimes waiting for 12 hours – and then still not getting to view the work of the Master. I love art – but not enough to camp on the streets of London. And so I missed the exhibition.
Hockney’s A Bigger Picture began at the tail end of Da Vinci and received hoards of press – it then promptly sold out. I phoned the RA to determine whether I would be able to queue for a ticket, or if I’d need to buy a year’s membership (£100 – purely for the privilege of viewing Hockney’s paintings) – I’d promised to take my mum for her birthday. I was told that more people had signed up for membership, in the hope that this would get them into the exhibition quickly, in the last month – than during the rest of the year combined. And that there was now a bigger queue for members than non-members. So I decided to get there as early as possible on a Wednesday morning and just wait.
I arrived on a chillblaine-inducingly cold morning – at 8am – and was one of just two people waiting for the grand doors to open at 9am. Clad in ludicrously ill-considered attire, I shivered and chattered my teeth and felt each of my limbs quickly growing numb – whilst I waited for my mother to arrive. She sensibly rocked up around 8.45am – skipped past the now very long queue – and joined me up front.
At 9am on the dot – the doors swung open and we were ushered in to the Royal Academy. Up the wide staircase and into the vast exhibition space we marched – straight through the first room, and the second, third and fourth until we reached the final room. This is where we began viewing the art. Everyone else was gathered in the first room, tip-toeing and discreetly shoving each other out of the way. It’s all about reversing the journey through an exhibition (when you’re the first in there).
Hockney’s paintings did not disappoint. Magenta tree stumps, glowing orange logs and purple soil made up some of the landscapes. His use of vibrant pinks and purples, oranges and greens perfectly encapsulated the seasons – despite their slight obscurity. And the collections of canvasses, laid out next to one another whilst he painted – and then on the wall of the RA – formed such impressively vast works.
The iPad pieces caused some controversy – is computer-generated art as technically challenging as pieces painted by hand? Does it matter? My sister said that they reminded her of scenes I used to design (as a child) on the basic paint programme we had on our Elonex PC. That says something, I suppose. But we agreed that they were innovative and a good use of modern technology – nicely incorporated into an otherwise fairly traditional exhibition of paintings.
All of Hockney’s landscapes, in this exhibition, depict East Yorkshire’s countryside. The rolling hills were, according to a coach tour from Bridlington (interviewed by the Guardian), somewhat exaggerated. But it is the artistic licence – with colour, dimensions, light – taken by Hockney, that makes his work so compelling. And imaginative.
The huge canvasses in the huge, high-ceilinged rooms at the RA required sufficient distance for viewing. We were able to stand quite a way back in the last few rooms – before other revellers had made their way through – but it was more difficult in the first room, as crowds were gathered – and continuously shuffling in front of you.
As with all exhibitions, you want silence and space. This was never going to be at the Hockney exhibition but the fact that so many people are so keen to see art exhibitions is inspiring and encouraging.
I am writing this post whilst stewarding at Rook Lane Arts, in Frome. The Secret Staircase has received comparatively far fewer viewers but a decent stream has been coming through nonetheless. At least they have the luxury of silence and space.