Hockney exhibition: I went a heterosexual and returned (nearly a) homosexual

The Hockney exhibition that has filled the usually empty Tate Britain ends next week, and I could not not see it–despite having been to so many Hockney exhibitions and seeing his works everywhere. So at 7.45 on today’s bright sunny Sunday morning I was on my bike and through the empty streets to the Tate for the early morning entry for members only. What a privilege to be able to cycle in less than 15 minutes to a huge exhibition of one of the world’s leading artists. (The exhibition is off to Paris next.)

When I arrive at 8 people were already queuing to buy tickets at 10, and there were plenty of members inside queuing to get into the exhibition. It’s a fine exhibition, covering the whole of Hockney’s working life, including many familiar pictures, and showing well his development and pleasure in experimentation; and there was excitement in the darkened room with large projections of his film of the four seasons in the Yorkshire Wolds https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hW5uSRqn7T0 and the room where you could see his Ipad drawings appear before your eyes.

You are struck too by his passion for drawing and painting: there is a huge amount in this exhibition alone, but it’s only a fraction of all that he has done. I noticed that many of the best works are “in the collection of the artist.” Will he create a Hockney Museum in Bradford?

Although it’s perhaps rich colours, particularly the swimming pool blue, that we most associate with Hockney, the exhibition made clear his huge talent for drawing. The room of his drawings had some of the best things in the exhibition. I think particularly of the loving but accurate drawings of his mother, but the one I would take home would be his drawing of Celia. It’s full of love (but not desire) and shows well her delicate young beauty.


In contrast his two pictures of naked men in showers are filled with desire, perhaps lust is a better word. Although heterosexual the homosexuality touched me. He could always draw beautifully, but it seemed to me to be lust and the bright light of Los Angeles, which of course went together, that gave him his unique style.

I was much taken with the large painting entitled Portrait of the Artist that shows his ex-lover looking into a pool where one of Hockney’s assistants is swimming underwater. The background show Californian hills and forests, which although a rich near tropical green have a melancholic feel. It’s a portrait of the artist that doesn’t include the artist; it’s a picture instead of his loss and longing.


Another painting that struck me was Looking at Pictures on a Screen where he has great fun reproducing in the background on a small scale some of his favourite paintings–by Piero della Francesca, Van Gogh, Vermeer, and Degas.

pictures on a screen

In his painting of Elderflower Blossom not only could I feel the summer heat I could, I swear, smell the blossom.

06A28 001

Finally, I remember years ago being greatly taken with an exhibition of his use of Polaroid photographs in complicated arrangements to create powerful images, and as a man who loves and suffers from Scrabble I liked a lot his use of multiple Polaroids to show people playing Scrabble. Polaroid may be an extinct technology, but it lives on through his art.



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