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A lively debate in the cold – David Hockney gets OCA students talking

We had a lively visit to the Hockney exhibition last week with OCA tutors David Winning and Tony Hogan. The tutors didn’t share the same views on Hockney’s work, which added to the debate afterwards as we huddled together in the Royal Academy forecourt. All this added to the quality of the reflections students had after the event, some of which are published below.
Dawn Finneran
I managed to produce 24 pages of studies and written work on this exhibition and have two distinct feelings about the work on show. The first is awe because of the sheer size of the landscapes. I was energised and excited by the use of colours in his work, completed with expressive brush strokes painted as if the world was about to end or at least the next Yorkshire rain burst was about to fall. This looseness gave you a feeling as if many of the artworks were sketches recording the moment as Hockney experienced it. The highlight of the exhibition for me was the iPad art. These works obviously lacked texture but to compensate for this the differing amount of mark making within each one left you studying every corner of their picture plane and reminded me of Hockney’s message – observe, observe and observe. The image that made the greatest impression on me was the large “The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011” which had a completely different feel and design to it than the others, taking Hockney’s stylisation to the extreme. It was on this painting that the most amount of layering and reworking could be seen, which satisfies my urges as a painter for thick paint! This painting also stood out because of the contrast between it and the racks of 51 printed out ipad paintings on display in the same room. I’ve been unable to get the vivid colours from some of these paintings out of my head, so I know I’ve absorbed something positive from it.
Delia Hiscock Walker
The Hockney visit gave me some powerful messages for the use of paint and the processes of painting. I loved the comment of one tutor who said, ‘ You have to be able to do the rules to break the rules’ For me the painting process must be exhilarating and though painful at times, meaning and context is paramount. I appreciated the structures of the work and the skills involved. I loved the colour and the scale of these paintings and the gargantuan effort to create them. The knowledge of the tutors really helped to see the processes behind the works and I for one will use some of these tips and insights. I shall spend more time with charcoal, pen and chalk to execute my drawings to a higher standard, having seen those of Hockney. in addition, the paintings will be a tantalising reference for me in the future as they stare back at me in reproduction.
My impressions of the exhibition were mixed. I loved the sheer size, vitality and use of colour in lots of his works however I do question whether Hockney sacrificed quality over size and quantity. Some of the paintings seemed to be quite rushed and almost careless – but in a way quantity itself has a visual impact – I’m thinking of the long wall where many i-pad prints were hung in meticulous rows – even though each print itself maybe wasn’t the best art – the overall effect was impressive. I loved the series of Woldgate Woods that were of light, space and dappled shade and reminded me of Monet – there is certainly something to be said for standing outside and just looking and absorbing and then selecting how to portray what you see.

Sketch from Hockney’s line of trees, on an iPhone

I’m pleased to have gone to the exhibition before I start my outdoor section in Drawing 1 as I think this will help. For me, aside from all the colourful and massive works, I absolutely loved his delicate charcoal drawings of trees with a few lines placed so skilfully to depict fields and hills – and the page in his sketchbook of a simple line of trees drawn in ink, pencil and charcoal was stunning.
Joan Norris
I thoroughly enjoyed it and am still thinking about everything we saw. The whole exhibition was most impressive and I liked some of the work more than others. One I really disliked – the large one of the hawthorne series next to the ‘tidy’ Hawthorne blossom nr Rudstone which I thought was creepy.
Corinna Woods
I enjoyed seeing the exhibition for a second viewing, and found myself ‘homing in’ on the sections that had communicated with me most on the first visit. It was particularly good to consider whether the apparent simplicity of the work was really so simple and to hear the opposing views of the two OCA tutors who accompanied us. I’m entranced by Hockney’s obvious love of and joy in the countryside he paints, and his ability to communicate the light and atmosphere of the passing seasons and weathers of our country. It was also good to share thought with other students, something that distance learning doesn’t often provide.
Sharon Liddle
I was particularly interested in seeing and learning about the iPad drawings and was not disappointed. I was also impressed with Hockney’s mark making and use of colour in his oil paintings; together with his charcoal drawings. However, I think my lasting impression will be the contrast between his water colour paintings and his oil paintings of similar subjects and similar time period. Both types of paintings are wonderful in their own right, but the styles and colours are so different. This goes a long way to show Hockney’s versatility in his drawings and paintings and his potential inspiration to an extremely wide spectrum of students and artists alike. Tony Hogan told us that Hockney uses sable brushes size 35 and 50 for his watercolour paintings, but still manages to produce fine and intricate lines and marks on these relatively small paintings. What an amazing artist. I for one was definitely inspired and can’t wait to start experimenting!

Posted by author: Jane Parry
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14 thoughts on “A lively debate in the cold – David Hockney gets OCA students talking

  • Despite having read a number of reviews, seen video interviews and read newspape articles in advance of the visit, I was completely unprepared for the power of most of the paintings.
    It was not merely the unusually large sizes of the canvases, nor the intensity of colour, but what impressed me most was the subject matter, and my response is a very personal one.
    As a gardener (job and hobby) conservation volunteer and keen walker, I spend quite a large part of my life outside, surrounded by ‘nature’, and I like to think that I am a moderately observant person.
    However, seeing the absorption and time that must have gone into the production of, in particular the Totem trees series and the Woldgate Woods paintings, I realise that I have not been seeing effectively, and am completely rethinking the way I look at the places I go day to day. The message to me is – find a place that means something to you and get to know it thoroughly, draw and paint it under all weather conditions, and shout ‘hooray’ for it! The way in which the Woldgate Woods October paintings, done at the same time, show the moods of the season and the weather, fascinates me, and makes me want to have a go. If something interests you, paint it – draw what’s in your ‘back yard’, find your own personal landscape and celebrate it. I came home from the exhibition, made myself a number of small concertina sketch-books and have been scribbling away in them since – little drawings of trees, odd corners of the garden, small moments. And I now want to paint ‘big’, and to find something that I want to paint again and again.
    I found the video sequences mesmerising, and a reinforcement of the need to examine and observe closely. The videos show that the landscape is there all the time, and that by scanning, our eyes take in a lot more than a single video camera can. Having seen the videos I was keen to get back to the paintings and look at them with the memory of the videos in my mind. I was less keen on the ipad and iphone paintings; although I can see that it can be a great way of sketching and creating a different kind of image, because the colours all have a flatness about them, there is less depth and intensity in the pictures than in the same scenes painted in oils. They seem somehow muted and less alive. There are a vast number of them – and the beauty of the medium is that it’s mess-free, takes up very little space, and multiple copies can be saved and reworked withut destroying the original!
    I’ve already visited the exhibition again and have booked two further visits!
    Thank you for organising the study visit – I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  • Fascinating accounts. I haven’t seen the exhibition I’m not good with all those crowds, but will try to go to see his work in Yorkshire when the dust has settled. But I’m intrigued to know what the tutors thought!

  • I would like to add; This was my first study day with OCA, it was great to meet everyone, in particular my tutor David Winning (also Jane and Tony) and students Joan and Arlene. I must apologise Joan for not saying goodbye but I lost you when we got outside for the debate. Anyway it was lovely to meet you. Also I would like to say “thank you” to David, your style of leading our group suited me. We were able to “grab” David intermittently as we walked around.This style allows time and space for independent reaction and thoughts.
    Thanks to OCA staff for choosing this exhibition,a really positive experience.Also it was excellent to hear a balanced debate (thanks David and Tony).It was so refreshing to listen to the diametric opposition of these two tutors.You each have my respect.

  • I too thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition which I visited with my husband on the 9th February. I can understand why it would be a good idea to visit it several times as there is so much to take in. I hope the Tutors who attended and were involved in the debate going to publish something about their views. I am sure there are many OCA students who would like to read about the debate. I was very impressed with the scale of the exhibition and the amount of work which had to be put in by David Hockney and the exhibition organisers. Well done everyone involved.

  • I would like to hear from the other side of the ‘debate’ as there seems to have been a difference of opinion among the tutors present. An interesting article on the exhibition can be found in the current edition of ‘Jackdaw’ written by the Editor Dave Lee.
    ‘Thus it is that we have entered that charmed realm beyond criticism where, in the absence of standards everything is ‘marveless’. In Hockney’s case, he can dash off pictures fifty to the dozen, which would disgrace an Adult Education course in Accrington, but still they are ‘marveless’. We can apparently no longer see lazy oversimplification, crudity, mechanical deadness of touch and non-descriptive flecks and flourishes for what they are, because so much of lauded Modernism celebrates the same careless qualities. But what does it matter when everything sells anyway? And of course, no one has the bottle to tell the artist himself. They want to be his friend, write books and articles about him and receive his latest three –minute finger daub from Baden Baden on their mobile phones over Sunday breakfast.’
    David Hockney is a populist artist indeed that he inspires such uncritical praise.

    • At last, a critical eye. I didn’t get in on time for the study day visit but having read all the pros and cons from various media, I can’t wait to see Hockney’s work myself on 13 March. At college, we all had our work scrutinised and criticised, this process for hopeful improvement seems to continue until an artist becomes fashionable. Is it the emperor’s new clothes again or, will I fall in love at first sight, I can’t wait!

    • The dichotomy between those FOR Hockney and those AGAINST Hockney is interesting and surely raises questions about contemporary art in general.
      What brings me over to the Hockney camp is his remarkable book “Secret Knowledge” which really does question the art establishment and provides a valuable insight into the way the so-called Great Masters worked.
      It is surely a mistake to dismiss simplicity in art but the Hockney postcard (The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate) that I have below my computer screen does not really inspire me. If these are the colours that Hockney sees then I wonder what is in his fags; in fact, they are the colours that the printer of the card considered correct. This might also be said of the iPad paintings though presumably Hockney had a say over this.

  • Hockney’s oeuvre occupies a unique and significant place in the history of 20 century art. Unafraid to expose his private sexual preferences for public scrutiny, his provocatively homo-erotic images propelled him to the status of Golden Balls of the Swinging 60‘s art cognoscenti. More recently, through his frequent pseudo-intellectual pronouncements on everything form art to optics to smoking cigarettes he continues to engage public attention and stir up polarized opinion. Whether his contribution to painting will eventually tarnish, when judged by the fickle perspectives of art history, remains to be seen.
    But one thing is certain – his aptly titled A Bigger Picture is fundamentally just that, and little more than that. These are huge images, where room after room after room of multi-canvas paintings are testimony to Hockney’s creative energy and seemingly inexhaustible capacity for sheer graft. But how does he do it? Where does he find the time, between jetting round the world for public appearances, writing treatise on physics, and now it appears, helping choreograph a gratuitous cubist ballet? As one american critic has suggested, he is perhaps “. . the artist in woods on acid and steroids!”
    The relentless assaulting colour of these pieces would certainly support such an extreme view – his palette is undeniably stimulating, even mind-altering, and as such probably contributes to that energising, “feel good” response which visitors to the show bang on about – ad nauseam.
    Ok, so I’m beginning to sound anti-Hockney, an old cynic; but it’s time for me to fess-up. I’ve been in awe of Hockney’s work since the early days of his notoriety – the controversial We Two Boys Together Clinging the atmospheric economy of Rocky Mountains and Tired Indians, any of the innovative joiners and the exquisitely painted Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy. How these paintings stirred my blood, made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end, and fueled my rebellious imagination. These seminal paintings, along with those of his contemporaries Kitaj, Jones, and Blake took on a stuffy post-war establishment, asked the same questions I was asking as a young art student, and said something which resonated with my generation, about morality, politics, sexuality and the painfully sticky business of growing up in a world where we felt permanently angry, slightly goofy, often alien. Heavy bananas man! I know; and today this hippy naval gazing stuff all sounds a bit Ab Fab and OTT. But if these issues disturb you, the good news is – you can always run for cover and bury your head in the warm snuggle blanket at the Royal Academy.
    Whilst this show is undeniably impressive for it’s sheer scale, the therapeutic power of colour and its overwhelming display of the artist’s physical resilience in his seventies, it is regrettably, in my view – shallow. There are no real issues here, no Bigger Questions – just big colourful pictures. This isn’t a exhibition on the cutting edge of contemporary art; this is a public display of an artist selling out to the very establishment he once challenged.
    It didn’t challenge me either, I just felt disappointed, bored and let down. Hockney isn’t the hungry painter he used to be, unlike some of his recently deceased contemporaries who never gave in, whose belly-fire never went out and who, through their work, never failed to stimulate my curiosity, stir my imagination, ruffle my cosy notions, unbalance me and scare me half to death with their shocking, uncompromising, often brutal images of the human condition, in naked oily HD!
    Painted to order as a sure-fire crowd pleaser, I have no doubt A Bigger Picture will prove to be a staggering financial success, from which the RA, Hockney and everyone involved in the logistics, media hype and merchandising industry will benefit.
    But it wont come as any surprise when I tell you, I decided to eschew the crowds of “art lovers” in the gift shop, and managed to resist the overwhelming temptation to buy A Bigger Picture souvenir tea cosy, to go with my A Bigger Picture mug, from which I could have sipped A Bigger Picture Yorkshire tea, whilst reminiscing by the lurid glow of the colours radiating from the glossy pages of my outrageously expensive A Bigger Picture catalogue (if you need to ask how much – you clearly can’t afford it).
    Anyway, I’m sure they would all have looked embarrassingly out of kilter in my kitchen, juxtaposed that is, with my grotesquely contorted Francis Bacon cheese grater and my blood stained Lucian Freud potato knife.

  • What a hectic weekend! I enjoyed the exhibition but like many people have said it was just so busy. I ended up buying the exhibition catalogue because it was impossible in some cases to see some of the lower paintings. It would have been nice to have been able to stand back to appreciate the sheer size of some of the works.
    Other than that I thought there were some nice pieces, and thought his playful colours and quick painterly execution worked well on a large scale.

  • Visiting the RA with a group of undergraduates as opposed to my three earlier visits I had made to this show (when there were few people present) made me acutely aware of how difficult it is for anyone to make a comprehensive and valued judgement of the work in such an overcrowded environment. Analysis constrained by both time and the difficulty to really see all the works there to best advantage may well have left false impressions. Having seen most of this work in David’s northern studio and observed the painting of several, along with discussions during the process gave me an advantage in viewing this great collection.
    The volume of recent paintings in this exhibition, all painted by his own hand and some to a huge scale, is a testament to his energy and desire to present his personal view of the world. Eight years of his life have been given over to this mammoth task of addressing the English landscape in a new and exciting way. It is evident that the influence of living in California has brightened his palette, and some may say these are not truly representational of the East Yorkshire colours. But the secret is that David has seen these colours by simply taking the time to look and look again. Selecting the early morning and early evening light in many cases which enhances these vivid hues and tones. Walking through the show there is indeed something for everyone. I was again amazed by his draftsmanship shown in the exquisitely executed charcoal drawings. In the room with over thirty watercolours, some are quite quick and sketchy, but that does not detract from them. If anything it shows the confidence of just how much or how little is required to make a statement. In the same room we see we see many of the same views presented with a more finished technique and painted in oils. Seeing these two sets of works created in the different media and handled differently should be a guide to the possibilities open to all.
    In the next room the series of Woodland on Woldgate paintings through the four seasons is possibly my favorite work on show. They are all on a huge scale and were painted plein-air. Each were individually painted without the aid of any preparatory grid work as I can testify by having stood and watched the Autumn one as he painted it. This series captures the changing seasons with atmosphere and detailed observation.
    The room with paintings of May blossom are a move in style and direction showing the versatility of the artist. Taking the painting of ‘Sermon on the mount’ by Lorraine and addressing it in a whole host of different styles and techniques shows the constant desire to experiment and develop ideas. Not content he then presents over fifty images created on the very latest technology he has embraced the iPad. Much discussion is offered on the value of iPads as true art form. The same was once said about photography.
    Moving into the video room which was very difficult due to the mass of bodies it was impossible to see the full screens on view and this must have disappointed many. The parallel viewing of the same location of Woldgate through the seasons and played two at a time alongside each other fills the mind when viewed up close in such a way as to be hard to focus on any particular single aspect. He takes you down Woldgate and other favorite locations through spring, summer, autumn and winter in such a way as you can see and feel the moment.
    I noticed lots of people never made it to the room with the sketch books and I pads past the video room, probably due to time constraints and crowd pressure. This was a shame as these showed the development in the sketchbooks that lead to the major later works and were very well presented on a video loop for all to see.
    What are my final thoughts on the show, it is BIG – HUGE in fact. It is the work of a master who is not trying to prove anything. His place in history is already assured, having being in the forefront since the sixties. Do I like all the work? – Well no, how could anyone? We all have our own subjective views on art.
    Would I go again given the chance? – Just send me the entry ticket please.
    Review on OCA study day at Royal Acadamy 2012 by Tony Hogan O.C.A tutor.

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