Immediate thoughts on seeing Tate Britain’s David Hockney exhibition.
Oh my. It’s uplifting and beautiful. My memories of his work when we were younger – he’d paint, I’d see them in colour supplement features – made me think this show might have a bit of a gay narrative (We Two Boys Together Clinging, A Bigger Splash, men in showers and so on). But it’s larger than that. His earliest drawings, done when he was a teenager, have such perception and promise (like Lucian Freud’s very early work). At the Royal College of Art in the early 60s his work is raw, experimental, struggling with art and with life (here is the only sexually graphic stuff we see, and even then it’s coded). He matures, finds his feet and the joy of relationships. He discovers light, nature and seasons, beauty in people and landscapes. He becomes calm and wise in older age. This is not about being gay, it’s about life, a life – our life, if we had his drive and talent, the eyes to see, the confidence to be our self, and to just enjoy things, to not fuss about the past.
That Hockney’s work is representational is deceptive: it can help to look for the abstract in the scenery, it can be a mistake to assume everything is as easy as it sometimes looks. His frequent style changes and discoveries of new media are inspiring, he never loses his youthful enthusiasm. It doesn’t always lead to his best work (whenever he rails against other art or art forms, as he does with conventional photography, you are warned). But what an achievement, a tour with force.
And humour. This Tea Painting in an Illusionistic Style (centre, 1961) made me think of Francis Bacon’s existential boxes, life trapped on a stage with its entrance and exit (on left is Bacon’s Seated Figure, 1961, and on right, a panel from Three Studies for a Crucifixion, 1962). Hockney’s box does offer a sense of hopeless entrapment, but you can’t help also thinking of tea leaves and a nice pot of tea (and you can’t imagine Bacon making jokes about how he misspelt TAE). Yet somehow the angst survives.
This is supposed to be a blog about archaeology, so here are some pictures…
Detail from Rocky Mountains and Tired Indians (1965)
Detail from American Collectors (Fred and Marcia Weisman), 1968
There’s a roomful of lovely East Riding landscapes. There’s some great archaeology up there, and some archaeologists looking at these will feel on familiar ground. There’s a bowlful of blossom in Kilham and blossom bursting from a hedgerow near Rudston. Above is The Road to Thwing, July 2006 (2006). Below is May Blossom on the Roman Road (2009). (These are bigger than they might look here.) It’s some time since I’ve felt such sheer joy in an exhibition.