An afternoon at the Royal Academy

The whole of David Hockney’s 81 portraits and one still life at the Royal Academy is considerably more than the sum of the parts. Indeed, he must have conceived them as whole, and they are beautifully displayed. All the paintings are the same size and have the same combination of blue, green, and turquoise background. The subjects, all seated on the same chair, are painted full length and are mostly wearing bright coloured clothes. So when you walk into the room through the red tinted doors you see this coherence of green, blue, and turquoise, against the deep red walls with the subjects looking out like so many fish in an aquarium.

Some of the painting of the individual portraits is extremely crude, with fingers that are no more than pink sticks and shoes that are simply smudges of brown. Size can go haywire, with one woman twice the size from the waist down that she is from the waist up. Lin conjectured that if one of these paintings was submitted to the annual portrait collection it would be rejected. But the paintings are exciting individually as well as collectively, and the faces are mostly wonderful. These are real people with faces that tell stories.

Downstairs from the Hockney exhibition is a small exhibition that is set up as a laboratory. It’s the Veronica Scanner which can print three dimensional heads. You can put your head into a large scanner that photographs it from 86 angles. These photos are then combined in a computer to produce a “blueprint” that allows 3D printers to produce an exact facsimile of you head. And it can do so at any size. On a shelf we saw a series of heads that ranged from one as small as a thimble to one the size of a large pig.

Veronica scanner

People in white coats sat at computers controlling the exercise, and three printers were printing heads of different sizes, It’s a slow process. Ancient statues reminded us that the desire to produce a “true” representation “underpinned Classical art and is at the core of icon painting.”

Another room contained a series of printed heads with extreme expressions. These are the 3D equivalents of snap shots showing people with strange expressions: technology has made something that was hard to do relatively easy (if expensive).


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