82 portraits and 1 still life by David Hockney at The Royal Academy
David Hockney is doing something very important for artists –combining the conceptual understanding of contemporary art today with the innate craftsmanship of applying paint onto a surface.
He is a modern man who doesn’t close his mind to new innovations. He has that most important ingredient for an artist in any age, an open mind. When a young man he became known for his photographic collages, large canvases which put together small standard photos but overlapping, adjacent and continuous to the previous image. What these photo collages did was attempt to give a bigger picture than was possible with a single lens camera. His paintings of sunny California bucked the trend away from the craft of painting and encapsulated something bigger and more interesting than the play of sun on swimming pool water.
He is still looking for the bigger picture, and, after a long and distinguished career, he comes to this project with a the vast amount of knowledge about the photographic image. But he comes to it with something else, he personally observes the difference between looking through an image-catching single lens machine and looking directly through his two, independent eyes and he adds to that the skill to put down what the magic inside his head has translated and conveyed to his hands.
82 portraits and 1 still life, Hockney’s ambitious new hang at The Royal Academy is so much more than just a collection of people painted in front of uniform backings in a maximum of three days in the artist’s studio in Los Angeles. This collection of paintings is not only a view into the way we see the difference between individual sitters but also “reaffirms the significance of the painted portrait in an age when selfies and photo-portraits have proliferated in social media.”
For me this exhibition is a very poignant and personal archive which when installed in near-chronological order – as it is, permits the viewer an insight into the psychology of the artist himself. “Hockney was recovering from a very difficult series of events, including a minor stroke, and he did not paint for some time, which was unusual for him.” When you walk around the gallery space and take time to observe the format and execution of these paintings you can almost see as a tangible thing, Hockney’s emotional state of mind lighten as we follow his confidence and conviction in the format and medium grow.
As I came away from the gallery and walked along Piccadilly it seemed that my own perceptive abilities had been heightened by an artist who had taught me a lesson in how to really observe people. The tourists, locals and business-people I passed now appeared more interesting; so much that I could almost see them with a blue wall behind them and a green carpet beneath them sitting on a chair and revealed in all their complexities.
This is what I consider a successful visit to a gallery.
 82 portraits and 1 still life, by Edith Devaney. Royal Academy catalogue