The first day of sustained rain we’ve had in months was the day nif and I went to see the Hockney exhibit. The pavilion between the Academy of Sciences and the de Young was a splashing silver mess and completely abandoned. Guards at the museum doors were helping people inside with a sense of urgency and everyone seemed to be filled with the excitement that comes from long-inexperienced weather events.
The exhibit began with an almost overpowering deluge of color. The gallery walls were dark chocolate brown and many of the recent Hockney landscapes (they opened with several series of large oils and bright portraits) seemed to glow internally. I particularly liked the palette of Winter Tunnel with Snow (below), which filled the bottom right corner of a grid of six large landscapes.
In reproduction, Hockney’s portraits hold up very well, but the size and depth of the landscapes make them more powerful in real life. I had always been a bit suspicious that the colors might be a little too out-of-the-tube – but they absolutely were not. The palettes are intense, but in no way store-bought and all well-considered.
There were excellent portraits as well. The luminous series of careful pencil drawings after Ingres with a camera lucida were displayed across from the “Great Wall” of art history. Hockney writes extensively on this series in his book, Secret Knowledge.
I’ve always loved Hockney’s portraits. Part of this love might come from the poster of his show at the Tate in 1980 that has been on a wall in my parents’ home for as long as I can remember. Later, I discovered it featured one of his many portraits of Celia, but in my early years, I had always suspected that it was supposed to be a portrait of my mother.
The exhibition is huge – over 300 works, and while one of the biggest topics of discussion has been Hockney’s embracing of digital media (particularly iPad drawings that are blown-up, printed, and mounted in a room all their own), what most inspired me was his freedom to try, to work prolifically (nearly everything has been done in the last few years), and his ability to maintain and develop his voice over a lifetime without being trapped into one particular style.
When we emerged from the exhibition, the rain had nearly stopped, and everything seemed so weirdly green. At first, I wondered if Hockney’s color vibrancy had somehow skewed my vision, but I think the shellac of long-absent rain added to the effect. Regardless, it gave me a new understanding of the word ‘saturation.’
What: David Hockney, A Bigger Exhibition
Where: de Young Museum, San Francisco, CA
When: October 26th, 2013 – January 20th, 2014
Ambiance: saturated abundance, heightened green