David Hockney.
A Bigger Picture

Oc­to­ber 27, 2012 - Fe­bruary 3, 2013

David Hock­ney’s swim­ming pool paint­ings are some of the most pop­u­lar im­ages from the 1960s. The artist achieved world­wide renown as a flam­boy­ant rep­re­sen­ta­tive of swing­ing Lon­don and a vi­su­al chron­i­cler of the “cool” Cal­i­for­nian way of life. In ad­di­tion, his strik­ing por­traits, mas­ter­ly still lifes and land­s­capes, pho­to­col­lages, stage de­signs, and per­cep­tive en­gage­ment with ear­li­er art have for de­cades se­cured him a lead­ing place among con­tem­po­rary artists.

Hock­ney’s wide-rang­ing oeu­vre is full of sur­pris­es. When liv­ing in Cal­i­for­nia he ad­dressed the com­plex­i­ties of spa­tial per­cep­tion in im­ages that in­clud­ed pano­ra­mas of the Grand Cany­on, but few peo­ple at that time would have guessed that land­s­cape was to be­come the cen­tral fo­cus of his work, as it has in re­cent years. In 1997 there were signs that Hock­ney might re­turn to the UK, and in 2005 he fi­nal­ly left Los An­ge­les for the ru­ral sur­round­ings of East York­shire. He be­gan pro­duc­ing a re­mark­ab­ly varied se­ries of land­s­capes. Oc­ca­sio­n­al­ly paint­ed in front of the mo­tif, and of­ten on a monu­men­tal scale, some of th­ese pic­tures ad­dress the view­er with com­pelling di­rect­ness. Others trans­late the land­s­cape in styl­ized, or­na­men­tal terms, re­sult­ing in im­ages whose al­most fairy­tale char­ac­ter tran­s­ports the spec­ta­tor in­to a col­or­ful dream world.

Along with tra­di­tio­n­al paint­ing tech­niques, Hock­ney has en­gaged in­ten­sive­ly with com­put­er draw­ing. Smart­phone touch­screens, and lat­er iPads, have en­abled him to work at great speed. The im­ages gen­er­at­ed in this way pos­sess an ex­traor­d­i­nary vi­bran­cy and im­me­di­a­cy, but their syn­thet­ic na­ture al­so gives them a strange­ly un­re­al au­ra. They are a ma­jor fea­ture of the Cologne ex­hi­bi­tion, shown ei­ther on small il­lu­mi­nat­ed screens or in the form of large-scale print­outs. Since 2010 the artist has al­so ad­dressed land­s­cape in a num­ber of strik­ing mul­ti-cam­era video works. This tech­nique, in­vent­ed by Hock­ney, con­jures a unique­ly com­pelling vi­su­al ex­pe­ri­ence by pro­ject­ing foo­tage of a mo­tif re­cord­ed with sev­er­al cam­eras on­to nine or eigh­teen screens as­sem­bled as a sin­gle unit. En­gag­ing with the unu­su­al­ly open qual­i­ty of the im­age in its en­tire­ty, the view­er be­gins to see far more ac­tive­ly and with greater aware­ness than is pos­si­ble with the fixed view­point of a sin­gle cam­era. Th­ese works are another ma­jor fo­cus of the Cologne ex­hi­bi­tion. David Hock­ney: A Big­ger Pic­ture shows an artist re­peat­ed­ly ex­tend­ing the scope of the clas­sic sub­ject of land­s­cape. All the works on dis­play tes­ti­fy to a deep-seat­ed ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the rich­ness and beau­ty of the vis­i­ble world. A piece at the end of the ex­hi­bi­tion sud­den­ly broach­es yet another theme: twelve jug­glers, shown per­form­ing in video pro­jec­tions on eigh­teen screens, pro­vide an un­ex­pect­ed take on the per­cep­tion of mo­tion in time and space. So vis­i­tors leave won­der­ing what the artist will do next. How could it be other­wise with David Hock­ney?

The ex­hi­bi­tion has been or­ganized by the Roy­al Acade­my of Arts, Lon­don, in co­op­er­a­tion with the Mu­se­um Lud­wig, Cologne, and the Gug­gen­heim Mu­se­um in Bil­bao. It is cu­rat­ed by Mar­co Liv­ing­s­tone and Edith De­vaney, in as­so­ci­a­tion with Stephan Died­erich.