More hyped than the Lennon’s second coming, A Bigger Picture at the Royal Academy is a true David Hockney extravaganza (nearly every major exhibition room in Burlington House) and has plenty of hyperbole to live up to. Judging by the queue snaking around the Academy’s central courtyard, the punters certainly hope that Mr H is the 21st century answer to Constable, or Turner, or something.
The show marks the artist’s return home to Yorkshire after most of a lifetime living under blue skies in Southern California. He made his name there with acrylic snapshots of translucent swimming pools and their surrounding architecture, usually peopled by naked young men.
Like Edward Hopper, but with broad beams of LA sunlight to vaporise the stark despair, Hockney’s human subjects often seem frozen under glass. Throw in his usual blasts of colour and an unpeopled journey through the seasons in the Bridlington countryside promises an intriguing spectacle.
First up are four wall size panel paintings, Thixendale Trees, showing the subject through the seasons. It draws plenty of oohs and aaahs from the predominately middle aged throng, but feels more like good stage scenery than great art.
The next gallery features (very) early works, including a nod to the French Impressionists in the sublime Eccleshill Fields and the cartoon pastiche of Flight into Italy.
The landscapes that follow range from giant wall size panels and canvases (often taken from photographed views and sections), to ranks of watercolour sketches (as employed by Turner). There’s also a wide screen showing multi camera digital video views of the same scenes.
Hockney’s colour choices often stop you in your tracks, as with the purple and blue trees of Winter Timber and the dazzling pollen yellows of The Big Hawthorne. In the end though, the cumulative effect of assimilated panels, overblown perspective and stark tones and shape feels like walking into a life sized children’s colouring book and exhibits a similar lack of narrative subtlety.
Worth coming for on their own are the charcoal sketches for the larger works, which are better than almost anything else on show. More surprising are the electric tones and Manga haze of the ipad drawings and paintings in the final gallery. These point to a genuinely new way of working in which Hockney seems totally at home.