How much is Bradford-born David Hockney appreciated in Yorkshire?
There is international acclaim for David Hockney and his latest landscape exhibition A Bigger Picture but how much is he appreciated in his home county of Yorkshire. Esther Leach canvasses opinion
A Sunday newspaper reported a stinging criticism of David Hockney who many acknowledge as this country’s greatest living artist. It quoted Derek Stafford, who taught Hockney at Bradford College of Art in the 1950s, as saying his latest exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art was too gaudy.
‘David has become, well, more of a decorator with all those bright colours,’ he says.
‘If you do landscapes, then look at how Cezanne did them and his subdued colours. I’m sorry to say but what David does now is rubbish.’ Harsh words for any artist let alone one of the most celebrated. But they didn’t surprise artist Doug Binder. Hockney and Binder lived near each other growing up in Undercliffe, Bradford; they both went to Bradford College of Art and later the Royal College of Art.
There is a four-year age difference between them but Binder often bumped into Hockney both in Bradford and in London and his influence on him was great, inspiring him to paint. ‘I know what Stafford is getting at because then everything was tonal. The paintings Hockney did then to me were special. They were different in terms of subject matter, because they were very bleak, not picturesque at all. They were a big influence on my development.
‘Everyone knew him,’ added Binder a successful artist, teacher and founding curator of the renowned Dean Clough Galleries in Halifax. ‘Hockney was a figure that everyone talked about even then,’ he said.
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Vic Allen, arts director at Dean Clough Galleries, believes Hockney owes his status more to news editors rather than arts journalists and says most professional artists under the age of 40 have no interest in him. ‘The truth is that there are “glory chasers” in all professions - Jonathan Miller, say for example; Robert Winston, perhaps; Richard Dawkins, possibly - who get accolades which their more dedicated peers resent. ‘Hockney’s status owes more to news editors than arts journalists.
‘The younger generation of artists have their own glory chasers (Gavin Turk and Antony Gormley are frequent nominees) and they bitch about them endlessly: but the story is more complicated for the older generation.
‘Hockney was one of the guarantors that art had a future on the canvas; his example inspired others to follow and he proved to be a firework that dumped its flares long before it reached its apogee.
‘As a result, Hockney conversations are like Woody Allen conversations. His contemporaries do yearn for the earlier work.’
Simon Wallis, director of the new Hepworth Wakefield gallery which opened last May, takes a more commercial tack. The Hepworth Wakefield has attracted more than 380,000 visitors in just eight months which he said showed there was a huge appetite for cultural experiences connected to Yorkshire’s artistic heritage including international artists Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and David Hockney.
‘All three of them have in common a rootedness in what is special and unique with regard to the landscape and people of Yorkshire,’ said Wallis. ‘It’s a place we have a close affinity to and great artists amplify and expand the ways in which we respond to and experience our environment Appreciation for Hockney’s achievements is at an all time high, and rightly ever-growing.
‘As a major new nationally significant gallery our mission is to deepen appreciation for creativity in the region and its inspirational cultural heritage and future. David Hockney’s work has always been a vital part of why art is so important and appreciated in Britain. He has a consistently energetic and enquiring imagination that has now been brought to bear on Yorkshire in his magnificent Royal Academy show. His art helps us see the landscape that surrounds us in revelatory new ways.
It encourages us to get out into the Yorkshire countryside to experience for ourselves its character and to keep returning to art to better reflect on our daily lives.
With public help we’d like a major painting for the collection at The Hepworth to widen access to his work in Yorkshire. Any collectors out there?’
A Bigger Picture
This is the first major exhibition in the UK to showcase David Hockney’s landscape work. It is spectacular in size and colour. Many of the vivid paintings inspired by the Yorkshire countryside are shown for the first time and sit alongside related drawings, iPad paintings and digital video. The show culminates in the Royal Academy’s largest gallery with The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011. It is described as Hockney’s homage to nature dominated by a painting on 32 canvases, surrounded by more than 50 large iPad drawings printed on paper.
The exhibition is one of the countdown events for the London 2012 Festival, a 12-week nationwide celebration bringing together leading artists from across the world with the very best from the UK.
Ruth Mackenzie, director of the Cultural Olympiad, described Hockney as one of Britain’s greatest artists. ‘For many of us David Hockney remains a favourite artist and his constant experimentation with new media including photography, computer technology and film is a continual fascination.’
A Bigger Picture is organised by the Royal Academy of Arts, London in collaboration with the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao and the Museum Ludwig, Cologne and runs until April 9th. There is also a programme of events including talks and hands-on workshops. For more details go to royalacademy.org.uk.