Monday, 31 March 2014

Hockney, Printmaker at Dulwich Picture Gallery

The perfect time to wander round an art gallery is a sunny Sunday afternoon provided it's not packed out with people doing the same thing. Yesterday we went to see the David Hockney exhibition of his prints over the last 50 years or so and it struck a nice balance between being busy and having enough space to see the pictures at your leisure.

I've never been a big fan of Hockney - he's always been a bit too famous for being famous kind of thing - but this exhibition shows us different sides to his art and his creativity. How many artists have tried making prints by using a photocopier? And who is still experimenting with techniques he first touched in the 1950s? That's dedication, particularly when he could simply paint the pictures he sees in his head.

His early works mostly seem to be line drawings, sometimes with a splash of colour and other times resting on their simplicity. We're given his series of prints from his visit to New York in the early '60s, his version of the Rake's Progress, and, later, his erotic series illustrating the poems of Cavafy with young men in states of undress and in bed together. The notes beside the series of printed questions whether this was his contribution to the campaign to legalise homosexuality in 1967. Possibly, but even Hockney isn't sure.

These are both interesting series of prints that help the viewer to grasp how he constructed his more narrative works. The relative simplicity of his early prints is attractive in its own way but I prefer his later and more experimental pieces.

We see some of the various series of prints he created while in California as well as portraits of the people he knew in those days, such as his 'Hollywood Collection' and 'The Weather Series'. From that section of his career I'd pick out the delightfully simple 'Coloured Flowers Made of Paper and Ink' with flowers in a vase and coloured pencils laid out on the table in front of the vase. It's sheer simplicity beckons me in.

I onder if that's it's attraction? I stood in front of it for longer than many of the other prints and I noticed other people resounding in a similar fashion. What is it about it that catches the attention and makes us look again? There's shape and colour but what else? Or is simply the coloured pencils in the foreground?

The final room of the exhibition is the most unforgettable, at least for me. The vibrancy of colour is astonishing, particularly from his 'Moving Focus' series of prints that capture the courtyard of a hotel in Mexico he only discovered when his car broke down. The complexity of the printing technique he was using and the astonishing colours make these impressive in anyone's language.

The pictures here don't adequately reflect the glory of the colour, the deepest, violent red and the calmest green, the imaginative perspective and the absence of humanity to declaim the architectural beauty of the place. I was aghast - how can these colours exist without me knowing? This reproduction bears no resemblance to the glory of the real thing. There are two prints of the same scene done at different times, one portrait and one landscape, both using the same incredible colours. If I could steal any of the prints and get away with it then I'd steal one of these.

 The exhibition is on for another few weeks so get yourself down to Dulwich and glory in the colours and shapes Mr Hockney creates.

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