Comparing David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture with Christies, Hockney on Paper

For the bookshelf: A Bigger Picture Vs On Paper

It took Christies (London) three years to put together Hockney on Paper that previewed and went on sale in the first month of the Royal Academy of Arts opening David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture. It is no co-incidence that the two were exhibited simultaneously and also that in late 2011 Christopher Sykes launched his biography of the artist, Hockney: The Biography. I attended Sykes’s lecture, Art as Autobiography: The Early Works of David Hockney before I saw the sale at Christies and A Bigger Picture and it soon became apparent that much of the motivations, inspirations and influences that contributed to Hockney’s art in his formative years are still current today. As Sykes explained in his talk, Hockney’s painting was a “means of exploring the things that most interested him” and in this post I would like to share with you what interests me about what most interested him.  

From: A Bigger Picture:

Double East Yorkshire, 1998 oil on 2 canvases 60 x 152 in. overall

I recently went on a long country walk with friends in Greatham, West Sussex and it was a beautiful winter walk with blue skies and lush green grass (see picture below). Double East Yorkshire reminded me of this invigorating day. I don’t think there is a single person (devout city dweller’s aside) who will look at this painting and not feel the underlying familiar and alluring quality of the countryside. Hockney painted this from memory after a period of six months visiting his terminally ill friend Jonathan Silver in Yorkshire and when you consider the sad context in which this painting was created it makes the lively and vivid cloak of colour and texture all the more poignant. Look at this painting, think about it – is it not comforting?

Winter in West Sussex

Winter in West Sussex

Hockney uses 19th century complementary colour theory in his Early Yorkshire Landscapes and Double East Yorkshire is no exception. Neo-impressionists such as Seurat used it and in basic terms it means that if you paint something in one colour such as purple, and use a complementary colour next to it, in this case yellow, the two colours will mutually enhance one another. As I learnt from Sykes’s talk,  Derek Stafford Hockney’s art tutor at college expounded this cerebral process of art and although Hockney’s paintings are painted from memory, and are somewhat childish in manner, you can see how his traditional training is still very much in use here and his meaning clear. Colour has not been chosen as a matter of realistic accuracy but rather as an impression, perception and experience of reality.

If you have been inspired by the colour and textural qualities of this painting there are many handprinted artisanal textiles on the market that echo this effect. An interior designer would know the first places to go to find these and in an upcoming post I will write about my favourite supplier of these high quality printed textiles.

From: On Paper

Lot 85, For John Constable, etching 1976

Lot 85, For John Constable, etching 1976

From the Christies Hockney on Paper sale a small etching, “For Constable”  (1976),  depicting a cluster of photographs and postcards on a piece of paper intrigued me. It pays tribute to John Constable RA another foremost British landscape painter whom Hockney has often been compared with. It was created a good 20 years before the Early East Yorkshire paintings of the mid-nineties and I like to think that Constable, although stylistically very different, influenced Hockney in his works. As Constable once said, “I should paint my own places best” which I think is apt seeing as Hockney does exactly that with East Yorkshire. Constable also said, “painting is but another word for feeling” which brings me back to my first comment about Hockney that painted what most interested him.

I loved the RA show, it was great and I recommend everyone to go but the domestic scale, intimacy and detail of the prints in this sale were also very inspiring. When I come to think of it, the appeal of the prints is that they are better suited in groups on walls of homes rather than in groups on walls in galleries. In galleries the prints and sketches of the type I saw at Christies are shut away in perspex boxes in a side room. At the Christies sale they were displayed in pride of place in frames as art should be and looked fantastic for it. The prints are relatively affordable which also adds to the charm as you have the opportunity to buy into the design world of a creative genius. When you stand in front of an etching with delicate thin lines cross hatched across a Crisbrook handmade paper you have to admire the delicacy and quality of the work.

I have enjoyed showing you two sides to Hockney from both exhibitions: the Hockney in Big Colour from Memory and the Hockney in Small monochrome from Observation.

I leave you with my own tribute to Hockney in my photograph “For Hockney” (2012)

and for more pictures from these two exhibitions visit:


Hockney Postcards with Christies catalogue

For Hockney by Interiors Monologue