David Hockney once joked that he was “brought up in Bradford and Hollywood” — on Yorkshire’s landscape and grounded good sense, on American movies and dreams of glamour. His work has always dovetailed an instantly appealing representational clarity with flamboyance and yearning, a mix so potent that it made him a celebrity, entering the public imagination like no artist since Picasso. The blonde British bombshell who turned California’s pools and highways into icons of heat and dust, speed and lust, and also emblems of postwar freedom, he is a draughtsman so pictorially ingenious that he could reinvent painting to embrace photography, film and iPad.
It’s all there in Bigger & Closer (not smaller & further away), his enveloping, irresistibly entertaining show launching Lightroom, London’s new venue for artist installations — a Turbine-Hall-sized lightbox and hybrid cinema/gallery/theatre. Through vast digital projections of his most famous images, Bigger & Closer plunges a promenading audience (there’s also tiered, cushioned seating, but it’s more fun to wander about) into the crystalline, brightly stylised rendering of visual reality which is Hockneydom.
The effect is hypnotic world Coupon One moment, a quartet of giant screens enfolds you into Woldgate woods, meandering the same path all at once through saplings and summer abundance, golden leaves and snowy luminescence, in “The Four Seasons”. The next, “Wagner Drive” pulls you into a dizzy encounter with younger Hockney at the wheel of an open white Mercedes hurtling through California’s hills to the roar of Ride of the Valkyries. From there you’re suddenly dropped into the chill of ancient carved stone — the frame for his hawthorn blossom window in Westminster Abbey (2018), illuminated to the rhythmic chant of Allegri’s “Miserere Mei”.
The 50-minute sequence, loosely arranged in six sections covering varied places and media, runs on a loop, and you can walk in any time. But whenever you arrive it won’t be long before you’re floating with beautiful boys, immersed floor to ceiling in the arcs and curves and squiggly white lines with which Hockney depicts intense sunlight hitting water. The show’s title alludes to “A Bigger Splash”, and the balance of geometry and voluptuousness in that painting is reiterated here in the close-ups of translucent pools held within an enormous all-over grid.
As the images unfold, everything is pleasingly recognisable yet refreshed by the grand scale of the projections, and shifting contexts. Fred and Marcia Weisman, the “American Collectors” as rigid and grotesque as the totem pole in their Los Angeles sculpture garden, become giants looming above us: his clenched fist tight as his dark suit, she grimacing as she clasps her sugar-pink kaftan protectively around her. The paving stones fizz in the heat; raking light, extended shadows and smooth blue sky memorialise a slice of privileged 1960s America.
Celia — wide eyes, green eyeshadow, rosebud lips — is twisted into Picasso-like distortion for the cover of French Vogue but keeps her warmth and enquiring gaze. “A Bigger Grand Canyon”, a composite painting of 60 canvases, unfurls on all sides here in wrap-round, fat, Fauvist hues. Textures are surprisingly differentiated: rain in Normandy thuds in stylus strokes splashed on to the iPad; photo collages from “Pearblossom Highway” to “My Mother, Bolton Abbey” have the sheen of sharp Polaroid colours and highly saturated surfaces.
As the theatre curtains sweep across the Lightroom, the space is transformed into a stage for all the world to tread. In the darkness, visitors appear to mingle with the dancing velvety stick-figure bats, leaping frogs and pink dragonflies from Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortileges, or with the stark black residents of Peking flitting among the colossal vermilion diagonals and curves of Turandot. The cultural references are dense and sophisticated, the theatrical magic immediate and engrossing.
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