in the garden

 

Mar 2012 Journal

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Art Notes (review)

It was the tribute of a Bradford lad to the Yorkshire Wold of his childhood that made David Hockney revisit his memories in blocks of primary colours. He put the trees and landscapes on his iPad and turned everything into vibrant hues. It led to his being both praised and criticised for having used modern technology in his exhibition David Hockney: A Bigger Picture at the Royal Academy (to 9 April).
These huge, lush landscapes joined together in squares and rectangles evoke nothing of the so-called bleakness or depths of Yorkshire, but they fill the gallery with the light of lost years. Hockney is less like a seasoned, mature painter here than a young artist on the brink of discovery. But what is he conveying? Is it magic realism? Super-realism? It’s certainly not Expressionism and, if anything, it has the touch of the master designer rather than the rapture of memory. Hockney takes the landscape seriously and portrays it in all its seasons – but, colours apart, it is linear, static and uncompromising. In earlier works, he plays ¬- like Hogarth and the Surrealist Escher before him - with ideas of perspective, offering a map, a jumbled view of signposts, an empty fallen tin can - the detritus of the road traveller.

Forget the Ipad. Vermeer too experimented with camera obscura. But Hockney’s attempt to fuse childhood memory with adult realism is difficult to reconcile. I preferred his view of the Grand Canyon - a bitter, brilliant vermilion broken with rigid, bright green cacti, and his earlier, more surreal touches, like two people resembling American Indians walking serenely through a landscape, or others where you can really feel the wind blowing through the wheat-fields.

Hockney sees winter as chopped down logs. The logs, however, are not deathly grey or brown but lie there in all the vitality of bright orange - perhaps a notion of timelessness, rather than demise. The question is: does Hockney really inhabit these landscapes? His layered memories are too robust to be nuanced by maturity. But they ring truer in his charcoal sketches of the trees – no colour, no design, just the movement again of wind through dense foliage. Here, like his portraits of loved ones, such as his mother, is where Hockney is really at his best.

Shrouded in mystery and sacrifice and once fraught with real danger, Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam, at the British Museum (to 15 April), was never going to be an inclusive event. The Museum has treated the greatest spiritual journey a Muslim can make with sensitivity and imagination, showing maps of the journey and including individual Muslim voices extolling Mecca’s spiritual power. You can see video footage of the experience and some interesting modern art on the magnetic pull of Mecca, using thousands of iron filings. Traditional work includes sacred textiles, richly ornamental covers for the Ka’ba, the black stone said to have been built by Abraham with Ishmael, who, Islam considers, was the son nearly sacrificed by his father. The Hajj attracts three million pilgrims to Mecca every year.

Gloria Tessler

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