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Feature: David Hockney: A Bigger Picture at the Royal Academy of Arts from January 21 to April 9

Published: 1 December, 2011
by JOHN EVANS

In his controversial book of 2001 David Hockney split the art world by claiming the widespread use of lenses and mirrors had helped many an artist, including Velázquez, Holbein, Ingres and Caravaggio.

Hockney himself mastered the use of the tiny camera lucida, which he describes as “a prism on a stick that creates an illusion of an image of whatever is in front of it on a piece of paper below” to put flesh on his theories in Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the techniques of the Old Masters.

It led to such startling questions as “Did Leonardo use optics for the Mona Lisa?”

and intense scholarly debate about Hockney’s view that he could identify optical characteristics in works from as early as the 1430s.

The camera lucida, he said, could provide the artist with “a fast forward of the normal measuring process,” which otherwise would take place in the head.

Well fast forward a decade and perhaps Britain’s best-loved artist, now in his 75th year, is set to reveal 52 of his own works which have been created on an Apple iPad.

“Faster than any medium I’ve come across,” he said, and when larger prints of the images were made he was amazed to see the effect.

Yet in A Bigger Picture, his major exhibition opening at the RA in the new year, he will offer much more.

Over 150 works, paintings, drawing, sketches and more will focus on his various depictions of landscapes, from photo-collages of the 1980s to the Grand Canyon paintings of the 1990s.

Highlights are to include three groups of work made since 2005 when he returned to Yorkshire and settled in Bridlington.

His series studies of Woldgate Woods and other East Yorkshire locations (the 6-metre Winter Timber, 2009, for example, above, comprises 15 canvases), are a clear homage to his own roots but also examinations of different perspectives, the changing seasons and the use of colour.

Hockney says: “In southern California you don’t get a big change in spring.”

But of Yorkshire, he adds: “It’s a landscape I know from my childhood so it has meaning.

I never thought of it as a subject until 10 years ago.” He had thought it too dark and cold in winter before realising how beautiful it was.

“To see colour you do have to look,” he says.

• David Hockney: A Bigger Picture at the Royal Academy of Arts, Piccadilly, from January 21 to April 9, £14, concessions available. Booking 0844 209 0051, www.royalacademy.org.uk, 020 7300 8000.

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