Thursday, 23 February 2012

Royal Academy In Touch: David Hockney Tour of ‘A Bigger Picture’ and Workshop

This post covers my second visit to the Royal Academy current exhibition of David Hockney ‘A Bigger Picture’ and the work shop which followed.  ( occasion the RA arranged for an early viewing of the collection in the company of our describer Bridget.  (My first visit to the exhibition is described in )On

We gathered in the foyer and were taken to the Reynolds room and fortified with coffee (it was a 9AM start) we entered the galleries.  I had arranged for my friend Stephen who took me to the Gerhard Richter exhibition, to accompany me and take some notes.   Apart from some maintenance crew and staff setting up for the public opening, our group of about 25 people, had the Academy to ourselves. 

We spent some time on the Thixendale series in the four seasons showing three trees.  While the same trees are painted Hockney has shifted his standing area and subtle changes occur in the perspective lines which he drew.  The seasons have also altered the appearance of the foliage on the trees, the flowers in the fields, farming changes to the landscape as well as weather conditions.  When I viewed these paintings on a Friday evening I noted that the winter and autumn (fall) scenes worked best for me.  A second viewing and a Monday morning shifted my opinion considerably.  I found myself liking the paintings of summer and spring.  This had something to do with the lighting, it was daylight lit for a start. 

There was space to view the painting from afar, without other visitors getting in the way.  It was also much quieter and so we only could hear Bridget’s opinion.  Bridget had explained her role in giving a description of some art work.  It is difficult in describing some concepts as being totally objective.  Bridget had a novel way, to me, of explaining the dimensions of a very large painting; to walk from one end of the painting so that those with no sight could hear the voice shift and were thus able to triangulate the size in their minds.  Bridget explained the flora in all the paintings and the seasonal coming of cow parsley was noted.  I had not been able to notice the state of the ploughed and planted fields and the perspective lines in the summer and spring paintings were different in the autumn painting. 

Salts Mill (Catalogue no. 19)

Johnathon Silver , a friend of Hockney, had bought the old mill in Saltaire near Bradford for conversion to a gallery space for Hockney.  (see ) This painting very much resembles a stylised setting of a Northern Town in England.  There are some very strange effects on the eyes as we had noted on the first viewing.  (The Escher Effect) There is apparently a red diesel train in front of the mill with an impossible route to join the tracks in the bottom left hand corner.  There is also a canal (with canal boat my accompanying friend, Stephen,  whispered)  

There are rows of mill workers’ cottages on the right side and the mill building glows with the reflected sunlight. This is not  the bleak ‘dark satanic mills’ of Blake with Dvorak 9th Symphony in the background.  Having admired Hockney’s American paintings it was good to stroll past them again en route to Salt’s Mill.

Hawthorn Blossom (Catalogue no. 81)

Caterpillars and snails were not far of the mark.  Bridget described the hawthorn blossom as having a maggot like appearance with thick applied coats and blobs of paint.  The “snail” was in fact the shadow of a tree which in turn was described by another as a rabbit.  Someone else named the snail as Brian and we all thought of the Magic Roundabout and there was something in that (Dvorak 9th morphed into signature tune of The Magic Roundabout).  Bridget also described the sky as being Van Gogh like.  Stephen thought the painting was an “exercise in flat pattern.”

On moving along the galleries the ‘Kitchener Hand’ (Winter Timber, Catalogue no. 105) beckoned and I noted that this time it did not dominate the view.  Perhaps its height above the “people” line on the Friday evening gave it a dominant position which was absent on the Monday morning.  It may also have had something to do with the lighting.  I stopped with other visually impaired visitors and they could detect the pointing (many fingered) hand. In the next room is

Woldgate 2011 (Catalogue no. 71)

Bridget again walked this painting. (The day before I had found a tapestry Map of Truths and Beliefs’ by Grayson Perry , British Museum, to be too big and I did get lost in it)  Bridget could only walk the painting in an empty gallery.  This painting has many skeletal trees giving vertical and leaves apparently floating.  It could almost appear to be a theatre back drop with a veil of leaves attached to gauze as if for a start of some opera or ballet scene.  Stephen thought this was “another exercise in flat pattern save for the graphic perspective of the path.”

We moved through the rooms devoted to the Sermon on the Mount interpretations of Hockney. 


We returned to the Reynolds and were given a handling talk about paints, pigments., brushes and rollers used by Hockney.  Harry Baxter led the session opening with an iPad demonstration of a Brushes app.  It had been reset before it came to my turn to use the touchscreen.  Given my track record at Westfield the system crashed! 

Harry was on safer ground passing round brushes made of hogs hair bristle.  Colours and pigments were discussed and Harry passed round tubes of different colours.  The heaviness of the Cadmium Yellow was noticeable.  Harry discussed different whites and we were told that stocks of Lead White were limited.  The quality of a Lead White was compared with those of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.  The full list of colours which Harry placed on the palette are as follows:

Lead White
Cadmium Lemon
Cadmium Golden Yellow
Cadmium Orange
Bright Violet
Ultramarine Violet
Ultramarine Blue
Cobalt Blue
Viridian Green
Phthalo Green
Emerald Green
Green Lake

Next, Harry passed round two canvasses which he had painted and we could feel the different texture of the lines and blobs of paint and discussed the way that Hockney had assembled 36 panels in a huge hangar and worked on the painting in one piece.  (I did discuss whether it would have been easier to get a bigger panel in the first place and then cut it up with my neighbour, but we didn’t say this too loudly.)  If three paintings together is a triptych, what is 36?

We discussed canvas materials.  I had treated myself to some small linen canvases in a sale and was going to try them out.  I discussed mixing of paints telling my story at the Wallace where I had mixed my own green.  Harry then passed round a palette with a range of colours including several greens.  Artists prefer to use oil paints of a particular green as some simple blue and yellow mixes are grainy.  Disposable palette covers served as keeping a record of the colours used. I could not detect any distinction with some violets, blues and dark greens.  It could have been a change of lighting. 

Harry also passed round a sample of damar varnish by Robertsons.  Damar is a resin and has a smell which is not unpleasant.  He then passed round some crystals of the damar resin which has the feel of frankincense and it is sourced from India.  It was first used by Titian who had access to it as a result of the Venetian trade with Asia.  Next, a sample of turpentine was passed round.  This was certainly not sweet smelling.

It was now our turn to make a collage using varying papers, texturised coatings and colours to make a collage.  With Thixendale fresh in mind I tried to cut out shapes in order to give an impression of Autumn in Thixendale.  My other project was lead by David who I had met at Tate Modern.  We had an empty beer bottle, some clay, wooden base and that’s it.  Some in an earlier session had stuck their beer bottle in a horizontal position and having agreed with David that it may rolloff I arranged to have my bottle stuck upright in a top right space. I put some clay on the sides of the bottle and some in the mouth.  I pretended that it was a Mexican Beer Bottle (Dos Equis) and that I was driving in a right handed car in Arizona. 

The team of describers with Bridget gave in turn their description of the collages and bottle/clay combo.  Harry then gave a critique.  We applauded each other and felt it had been a wonderful morning.  We had been busy from 9AM to almost 1.30PM.

Many thanks to Kate, her team and the Royal Academy.


I asked for suitable titles for my collage and the sculpture.  It may have been a mistake to tweet out that the “works” had been created by me in the same room in which Charles Darwin presented his “Origin of the Species” lecture to the Linnaean Society in 1858.  The first tweet yielded mixed results and the 2nd round got a bit more serious with Dawkins cropping up as well.  Any suggestions for my collage shown at the top are welcome.  This painting (this work of art) currently hangs in my flat!

Royal Academy related posts:

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

My post on the Zoffany exhibition at the RA can be found on: