In 1964, as a young artist David Hockney left his Yorkshire home for Los Angeles, desirous of Hollywood glamour and the lifestyle that the West Coast depth of field and darkness of shadow had to offer. Hockney’s swimming pool paintings are among the most popular pictorial icons of the 1960s. He became famous the world over as a chronicler of the Californian way of life. His portraits, still lifes and photo collages have also contributed to the fact that, for several decades, he has been regarded as one of the most important contemporary artists. But that is not all. His latest, enormously fresh and bold works have a surprise in store. Among these works are his magnificent landscape paintings – most of which have been painted en plein air – and his screen drawings which have been created using the touch screen of a smartphone. Now, having returned home to paint the landscape of his childhood, His new works include multi-focal films which create a unique viewing experience by showing images on 18 monitors which are joined together.
Hockney draws from his lifetime’s experience of a foreign land, monumentally rendering the Dales a la the Grand Canyon, in alien colour and with impossible vividness. This linkage is made explicit via the curatorial decision to dedicate the first room to early Hockney, laying the bedrock of American reference points by which to understand the recent work that fills the rest of the gallery. And it is this transcribed luminosity that makes this exhibition so accessible – so ‘very generous to the spectator’, in the words of the curator Marco Livingstone: ‘even a 6 year-old coming fresh [without a grounding in art history] will have the visual sensation’.
Another key to this immediate immersion is, of course, scale, with the title ‘A Bigger Picture’ carrying a wholly literal meaning alongside general allusions to the retrospective trope. Cobbling together canvases as if they were his early photo-collages, Hockney has created vast, sprawling surfaces on which he creates his stage set-like panoramas of woodland and hillscapes. While some of the works veer toward being imaginative rather than the representational, their claim to reality is made good by virtue of sheer size, forcing the viewer to take them seriously as worldviews – however purple. His re-workings of Claude Lorrain’s Sermon on the Mount (an obscure but welcome anomaly, there by virtue of their newness), for example, demand that we literally look upwards to Christ on high, inducing us to join the depicted thronging crowds – to become actors on a painted stage. Even those smaller works on display are given a touch of polyptych monumentality through grouped en masse curation.
This popular exhibition, which was originally mounted at the Royal Academy in London. A Bigger Picture, was curated by Marco Livingstone and Edith Devaney displays Over 150 works Stephan Diederich the curator in Germany is working closely with the artist himself. 650,000 visited the Hockney exhibition in London and it is expected to be equally successful in Cologne.
David Hockney A Bigger Picture is on show 27 October to 3 February 2013 Museum Ludwig, Cologne Germany.