80 year old Hockney hits his stride
The second half of the new Hockney show at Tate Britain is a humdinger of colour. It may not lift depression or hasten the approach of spring but it feels like it should, as though trendy doctors might prescribe a visit to the Hockney show as a cure for mental darkness. Of course they’d discover it didn’t work after several well-funded trials, but you can see why it might be tried.
Especially after the early rooms of experimentation, Hockney’s later work feels free and vibrant. His famous portraits from the Sixities and Seventies are staid, posed and stylistic. The polaroids are clever and try to develop photography’s single-point perspective. But his late style feels like a fitting peak to a wide-ranging career. For twenty years Hockney has demonstrated through freely-dashed oils an exquisite sense of which unexpected colour goes with which unexpected colour, all with no deliberate attempt to be avant garde, which is maybe as avant garde as you can be.
Very early in his career Hockney finds and uses stunning blues, but Room 8 (‘Experiences of space’ – every room has a hifalutin name) is where the colour starts to zing. Abstract lumps mix with distorted landscapes, interiors and wild waves. As you move into the show the colour really hits, sometimes so hard you can imagine The Fauves writing Hockney a strongly worded letter asking him to tone things done. The Wolds are a medley of greens, the Grand Canyon of oranges and reds. Red pots in the garden are a disorientating celebration with pink trees and a whirl of vegetation in an un-contemporary-art golden frame that helps the zinging.
Room 10 is dedicated to more images of The Wolds. Large images are built up from smaller canvases hung together. The slapped on freedom is invigorating and encouraging. You may rush home via an art shop to buy a beginners oil set and give it a go. Or you could imitate Hockney by downloading an app and start painting on your phone. The final room has some of his digital images. Some are displayed on screen, some printed. Some are animated, showing each stroke as he marked it, making the image appear before your eyes. This is a gimmick and only exists because the app lets you record the process and play it back later and shouldn’t have been given such large wall space.
The accompanying guide is informative, although it contains some of the art-speak that delights in over-complication: ‘he collapses time and space by emailing images to friends and family.’ That sounds like some great artistic ability, but surely really means, like millions of people around the world, he emails images to people who aren’t there and they get to see them quickly.
The exhibition shows Hockney’s development, his exquisite drawing ability and suggests his best work is still coming. he has shifted through many styles on his journey to national artistic treasure. What will come next?