Tuesday, 14 February 2012

David Hockney ‘A Bigger Picture’: Royal Academy

Update: 15/2/12

The Royal Academy has uploaded a selection of photographs from the evening on their website at:

There is a link to a gallery where you can see the photographs on:

However, the pictures are small and there doesn’t appear to be a facility to enlarge them.  An alternative is to visit the Royal Academy’s Facebook page.  However, you will need to be logged in to Facebook to access these pages.  I am not familiar with Facebook, though I have a Fb account under my own name!  

The Royal Academy's Facebook page is under ‘Raacess programme’ on

and you can view the relevant album page there.  The link is:


Let me know if you have any problems!

** end of update

The Royal Academy stages exhibitions which draw in large crowds from far and wide.  This exhibition on Yorkshire painter David Hockney is no exception.  ( http://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibitions/hockney/ )

The exhibition opened with some mixed reviews and I have listened to the Brian Sewell review in JAWS (screen reader) Sewell’s review is from the London Evening Standard.  ( http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/arts/review-24029156-david-hockney-ra-a-bigger-picture-royal-academy---review.do ) He receives mixed reviews and both his prose and vocal delivery are much parodied in the British media.  I listened to some of the reviews on BBC Radio and made a mental note to go and “see” the exhibition, if I could. 

A friend of mine had gone to the exhibition and thought I would enjoy the large paintings and on my behalf made some enquiries.  I contacted Kate from the RA access department and got some advice on a workshop and was also told of the RA’s scheme for people with disabilities and their volunteer network.  Kate encouraged me to book the workshop and to attend an ‘In Person’ event on Friday 10th February with a chance to view the exhibition.  The guests gathered in one of the salons having been met in the foyer.  My tickets were on the reservation system and we managed to avoid some of the crowds on the Friday evening which was very busy as the galleries are open late. 

I am still struggling with a crutch and combined with a long cane find stairways a problem, so went with some others in a service lift to the event.  This In Person event is a mix of drawing with oil based pastels on coloured paper to a background of participatory percussion, courtesy of Principle3, the Royal Academy and sponsors with a team of volunteers.  We all introduced ourselves and in addition to two other visually impaired people I knew, I met another three.  There were about 60 people there with a large contingent from Croydon.  We were given a programme pack and drinks before the group was divided into two: one to try out some percussion instruments that included a mix of drums, marimbas and steel drums; the other group to draw whatever they liked at tables kitted with drawing materials.  A couple of facilitators were on hand and I got some ideas from Jonathon about blurring my drawing of a landscape to the background of the music.  As the crayons were oil based we would have to use turps or white spirit to get the blur effect.  Being surrounded by paintings it was not possible to blur my drawings there and then so I brought my drawings back and will cut them in half to blur at home for a “compare and contrast” or “before and after”. 

Later, another piece of serendipity and synchronicity happened. Having revealed that I had played a ‘cattle grid’ with my cane while walking in the Preston Hall estate in Scotland, it was a real pleasure to have a go on the marimba or xylophone.  We each had about us one of the Principle3 group to advise and cue us on some impromptu music making.  I really enjoyed the marimba and had some time chatting with Wendy on the Steel Drum and learning about the musical characteristics of the instruments and how they were now standardised for the purpose of ensemble performances. 

The sounds of Friday night are still ringing in my ears and I can 'see' it reflected in some of my drawings.  As a visually impaired person, it was great to enjoy extraneous sounds that were not noises.  (I was reminded of an interesting art installation by Haroon Mirza where I was encouraged to use my cane on his drum set and cymbals which were connected to a light show.) 

Brendan made the point of listening to what other people are playing rather than drowning out everyone with your own performance.  This, I think, is an apt metaphor for life and I think Principle3 could find a good market in the retraining of the current House of Commons!  Perhaps a few sessions with the group might improve the MPs’ behaviour.

After two hours of drinks, drawing and music making it was time to view the Hockney exhibition, if we wanted. The exhibition was still rather busy and we were fed in small groups to drift round the exhibition.  The paintings are very large and combine some of Hockney’s earlier work in California, Yosemite and Grand Canyon with some Yorkshire landscape paintings. 

A theme of the exhibition is a large painting in oil of a scene during the four seasons. Sometimes the same scene is painted on a monthly basis.  I found myself being attracted to the paintings of trees bare of leaves showing the fine branch painting and filigree branch work. Winter scenes worked best for me as I could make out the lines.  Some of Hockney’s work reminded me of Frank Stella’s abstract work in that I compared Stella’s contour lines with Hockney’s contours made from logs and lines of trees and some odd perspective lines in the landscape. 

There are a few town scenes from Yorkshire showing river, railway, road and inevitable ‘mill’.  There are also some high tech exhibits and videos which I did not visit as I spent most of the time listening to the caption and getting lost in the painting.  I had been warned that the exhibition was prone to be busy with crowds though apart from the bookshop area it is relatively easy to avoid the crowds.  I could view from the side and though there were roped off and there are red lines in front of most of the paintings, the RA staff will advise you of when you are too close, or at least warn those accompanying you.

I have made a few notes of my first visit to the Hockney exhibition.  Having ‘seen’ the abstract work of Frank Stella and Anton Henning, it is difficult to make any comments about the influences of say Duchamp and Gerhard Richter on Hockney.  I have seen some Hockney work before I lost my sight and am familiar with some of his set designs for the opera. 


I’ve given the titles of some of the paintings I enjoyed and which I have been able to match along with remarks noted down at the time for a few.  I’m going to make an effort to find out more about these paintings at the workshop next Monday 20th February and will add to this. (http://www.royalacademy.org.uk/events/tours/intouch-at-the-ra-hockney-audio-description-and-creating-session,1947,EV.html)

The exhibition opens with “Three Trees Near Thixendale”.  There are four pictures more or less facing each other at the entrance to the exhibition proper.  There were a lot of people milling around the paintings, some in groups and some on their own.  The trees - there are three of them - were painted by Hockney at four times in the year; an effective four seasons approach, though I did not hear any Vivaldi in the background nor did I overhear anyone suggesting that this could be an option. 

I didn’t have an audio guide on this occasion and went with a friend whose criticism I can “read”, but whose remarks may not always be descriptive.  I preferred the Autumn and Winter paintings of the trees mainly because my vision is able to pick out the fine lines of the tree branches and doesn’t do particularly well with the trees in full leaf.  While appreciating that the paintings are installed as a set, I would certainly enjoy having those two in a room. 

Mulholland (after Hogarth) Kirby

Grand Canyon Series

The Road to Thuring ( Catalogue no 54)

Woldgate Tree (Catalogue No 53)

A Closer Winter Tunnel Feb-March 2006

There are 6 large canvasses and the painting is continuous.  This often begs the question: why didn’t Hockney paint them in one big canvass and divide it up?  In fact, a friend has dared me to ask this at the workshop.  

I really liked this painting as there is an idea of the perspective lines lying between the lines of the trees on either side of a track.  The tree trunks, branches and barks have quite distinct lines and I think it is a beautiful painting. 

Mid November Tunnel 2006 (Catalogue No 64)

Early November Tunnel 2006 (Catalogue No 63)

Room 6 Woldgate Woods

Woldgate Woods November (Catalogue No 69)

May Blossom on the

Roman Road
(Catalogue No 81)

Hawthorn Blossom near Rudston (Catalogue No 78)

his painting provokes a sense of unease with my peripheral vision and I had to check how many arches were there in reality.  There was only one according to my friend, but as I moved about this painting I found that I could make out three.  This may just have been a trick of the artist being in turn tricked by my sight condition.  Overall, a very interesting painting with striking perspective lines.

The Hawthorn bushes are in bloom, though the blossoms to me are more suggestive of caterpillars!  In fact, I could overhear remarks by others concerning this painting referring to some of the shapes and shadows being cast as looking like caterpillars and slugs/snails.  At this point of the evening it was around 10 o’clock and there was a late night crowd in voicing their opinions, much of which were interesting. 

Winter Timber 2009 (Catalogue No 105)

This large painting can be seen from quite a distance away through the other galleries and dominates the total length of the gallery space.  In some ways it looks like a giant hand but it is a line of logs placed at an odd angle with one of the logs looking like a pointing finger of a hand the wrong way round reaching out in much the same way as the much parodied Kitchener “Your Country Needs You” pointing hand directly at the audience. 

There are a lot of logs, colours and shades and trees on the right hand side which are upright.  The piles of logs remind me of the stretch in Northumberland northwest of Morpeth where logs have been piled up for years by the roadside, seemingly mile after mile.  I think I counted 3 x 5 canvasses making up this piece altogether. 

Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, E Yorkshire 2011

This is another beautiful painting showing fine filigree work on the tree branches.  This reminds me again of some of the fine wallpaper at Arniston House.

My friend noticed guides with large print in each room and the large paintings are accessible within limits.  At the end of the exhibition there is a sample of Recent Work by Hockney.  This is in a constricted area of the space just before the exit to the bookshop.  You can really get up close to these paintings and there is little space to view from afar.  I could not get a feel for these paintings and my friend was not too impressed.  At best some comments on Art and Utility was made but no elaboration was made. 

The bookshop has a range of cards and catalogues (about £30). The exhibition guide has some copies and is good for matching with descriptions.  At this stage I have only read the Brian Sewell review but many links to the paintings I have mentioned can be found in critical reviews. 

I certainly enjoyed the evening which lasted from 6pm till well after 10pm. There is a lot to take in, think about, review with friends and I will report back after the workshop.

Many thanks again to Kate Horbury for arranging such a delightful evening.

More information on Royal Academy's access events for the blind and visually impaired can be found on:


Royal Academy related posts:

My post on the RA Summer Exhibition 2012 can be found on:

My post on a touch tour of the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy can be found on:

My post on the Zoffany exhibition at the RA can be found on: http://profwhitestick.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/royal-academy-johan-zoffany-ra.html