David Hockney: a contemporary colossus

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Contemporary art, I confess, isn’t really my thing. There are the odd exceptions: Lucian Freud, for instance. But my coming to terms with contemporary art owes much to one man. Perhaps it’s the fact he’s from Yorkshire which means I was always more likely to be receptive.

David Hockney must by some distance be our greatest living artist. His shows have for years drawn public and critical acclaim and his latest, David Hockney RA: 82 Portraits and 1 Still-life, at the Royal Academy is no different.  

It’s a delightful exhibition and every canvas displays the artist’s basic humanity. Each portrait is sympathetic yet not flattering. Hockney seems to care little if you are a world famous architect like Frank Gehry or a billionaire scion of privilege like Jacob Rothschild. Both get the same time and treatment as his sister Margaret and brother John.

The immense observational power Hockney possess is sharper for the paired down nature of the chair and choice of background colours. What’s also evident is his understated, not openly expressed, understanding of the greats of portraiture. It lifts him to another level from the rank and file of today’s contemporary artists.

His return to LA is there in every Californian sunshine infused brushstroke. Light is for me very much core to the identity of Hockney, it is his signature. The way that the sitters resonate with people emotionally even though, unlike Hockey, we hardly know them is a triumph.

I can’t be alone in wishing I shared the septuagenarian’s energy.  The size and volume of canvasses alone is impressive. That’s something you will grasp immediately on entering the exhibition space. Three days or some 20 hours on each canvass seems so little time but then again Hockey has a lifetime of creative talent on which to draw from.

Incidentally, though there are 82 canvasses, number 55 is actually a double portrait of August and Perry Barringer.  The one still life in case you are wondering is a result of a missed appointment. Primed and ready to go, the lack of a sitter wouldn’t stop him.  It isn’t a surprise but there is seemingly nothing David Hockney cannot do.

I could have chosen any of large number of portraits but bellow are just a few which caught my eye.

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