I don’t know much about art, as they say, but I know what I like.
Tomorrow (Saturday) sees the opening of a major new exhibition of David Hockney landscapes at The Royal Academy of Arts in London. Bradford-born Hockney is undoubtedly one of the most influential British artists of the last – and indeed this – century.
The exhibition is called A Bigger Picture, a reference to Hockney’s accidentally invented trademark medium of “joiners” – vast widescreen works made up of multiple canvasses or photographic images such as Bigger Trees Near Warter, donated to the Tate in 2008.
Like the artworks themselves, A Bigger Picture is highly unusual in its size and scope, taking over the entire Royal Academy. It features not just collated Hockney landscapes from the last 50 years, but a swathe of vivid, vibrant new works created during a staggeringly prolific purple patch enjoyed by the artist since 2005. Ever the innovator, many of Hockney’s latest works were realised using an iPad and iPhone, much like his groundbreaking 1970s and early ‘80s portraits made from Polaroid photocollages.
And the inspiration for this recent outpouring of new work? Hockney’s latter-day relocation from Los Angeles – his permanent home since 1978 – to the somewhat less glamorous seaside town of Bridlington, on Yorkshire’s east coast.
Hockney, now 74, has swapped the sun-drenched Californian swimming pools of iconic works such as A Bigger Splash (1967) for the undulating beauty of the surrounding Yorkshire Wolds, home to his beloved mother until her death in 1999. It says much for the sheer scale and dramatic variety of landscape in Yorkshire that, alas, I am less than familiar with this largely unsung corner of my home county. I’m not the only one, though.
Stretching from the Vale of York in the west to the plain of Holderness in the east, and bordered by the Vale of Pickering to the north, the low hills of the Wolds play third fiddle to the internationally renowned North Yorkshire Moors and Yorkshire Dales. Both were made National Parks in the 1950s, while today the lowly Wolds do not even merit the status of being an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
But all that might be about to change. A Bigger Picture is undoubtedly one of the most significant global art events of the year, and tourism agency Welcome To Yorkshire is working with Hockney to create a tourist trail based around his recent work.
Dorothy Fairburn, Yorkshire Regional Director of the Country Land & Business Association (CLA), says: “David Hockney is widely known as the godfather of modern British art and it is expected that this new exhibition will result in an influx of people to the Wolds. Tourism businesses operating in and around sites that feature in the new exhibition, such as Garrowby Hill, Sledmere, Warter, Thixendale and Kilham, would be well advised to make sure they are prepared for a surge of interest this summer.”
It seems that no matter how far in the world we wander, the tractor beam of God’s Own County never quite loses its gravitational pull for us native Yorkshire folk – even acclaimed multi-millionaire artists.
As Hockney told the Guardian Review last weekend: “When my friends in LA ask me what I am doing, I say I’m on location. Monet stayed out at Giverny, Cezanne stayed in Arles. You might need a big city when you are young, but there comes a point when you need somewhere else. I’ve found it here.”
Hockney is a long-standing patron of Salts Mill, in Saltaire, home to a considerable collection of his work just down the road from his birthplace, while Bigger Trees Near Warter was exhibited in both York and Hull last year. It would be fitting, however, if some more of Hockney’s recent works from what is sure to be a blockbusting new exhibition find their way up north at some point later in the year.
Trains to London don’t come cheap, and this beguiling journey through Hockney’s living world would surely take on an added dimension if displayed in the context of the often overlooked natural wonders that inspired it.
- David Hockney: A Bigger Picture runs from January 21 to April 9 at The Royal Academy, London. Images courtesy of the artist and The Royal Academy (via PA/PicSelect). www.royalacademy.org.uk