entertainment

Review | David Hockney exhibition at London's Tate Britain

2017-02-17
The David Hockney retrospective at Tate Britain does everything you could hope for - and then some. One of the Britain's best-known living  - and certainly one of the world's most-famous gay - artists, he had shows at the Royal Academy last year and in 2012. The latest exhibition is said to be “his most comprehensive yet” and reveals “how the roots of each new direction lay in the work that came before”. More than 250 works - paintings, drawings, prints, photography, and even video - from across six decades come together as the artist approaches his 80th birthday. Many have been hidden away in private collections for years, so this feels like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Hockney fans. The breadth of work on display is impressive. While well-known landscapes and portraits feature throughout, some more experimental drawings and early works can be seen too. The room of paintings from his student days at the RCA, entitled Demonstrations of Versatility (I have to admit, I chuckled), was entirely unexpected. Hockney experimented with abstraction in intensely personal and deeply moving works that explore same-sex desire and love at a time when homosexuality was still illegal in England and Wales. We Two Boys Together Clinging and The Most Beautiful Boy in the World employ scrawled graffiti, reminiscent of toilet walls, phalluses and abstracted human forms while The Third Love Painting quotes Walt Whitman - “And his arm lay lightly around my breast, and that night I was happy” - as well as a less subtle “69”. Through the next rooms, his style develops through portraiture and scenes of life in Los Angeles. He moved to LA in 1964, when bright colours and blue skies embody the escapism and opportunity that America offered him. Nude men in The Sunbather, Man In Shower in Beverly Hills and The Room bring a sensual eroticism to his paintings - as well as some blinding tan lines. A Bigger Splash and Peter Getting Out of Nick’s Pool are fabulous and a joy to see up-close: thankfully photography isn’t allowed, otherwise I’m sure the room would permanently be filled with selfie sticks. Hockney's later portraits and drawings are more straightforward but interesting nonetheless, with his minimal portrait sketches demonstrating virtuoso draughtsmanship. His composite polaroids affirm the artist's innovation, while there's a certain voyeurism in the nude Gregory Swimming, Los Angeles. The exhibits start to stagnate through rooms of landscapes - primarily of American canyons and Yorkshire landscapes - but are joyful and clearly personal, if slightly kitsch at times. A video installation is more engaging and surprising, embracing technology instead of traditional media. His famous iPad and iPhone works conclude the show; while some of the still lives are a bit boring, his portraits are cute and brought to life as animated works-in-progress. This exhibition is bold and, at times, intensely tender. While it might seem obvious - of course a Hockney show will draw big crowds and produce popular merchandise - it’s much more engaging and diverse than I’d expected, demonstrating a wonderful array of art and insight. Unsurprisingly, it's a busy exhibition - both in terms of works on the walls and bodies in the galleries. It’s probably worth waiting until the hype dies down a bit (if it does) and booking in advance is certainly advisable. While it’s hardly cheap, at less than £20, it’s definitely worth it. In a time when everything seems terrible, Hockney offers colourful, optimistic escapism. The exhibition runs until 29 May. For more great deals on tickets and events, visit tickets.attitude.co.uk. Words by Louis Shankar More stories: Colton Haynes goes public with new boyfriend in the most adorable way Who wants a sneak peek at ‘I’m a Celeb’ star Joel Dommett’s Attitude shoot?