Spring has come early in London.
The Royal Academy is ablaze with all the colour and life of a new season; the air is heavy with blossom, leaves form a tunnel and a clearing in the woods takes on a green hue.
David Hockney’s A Bigger Picture (until 9 April) is not billed as a retrospective, although it includes some signature older works to chart the artist’s interest in interpreting nature. It kicks off the 2012 season with what is predicted to be a blockbuster. Hockney has filled the enormous space of the Royal Academy largely with work from the past seven years in a joyous celebration of landscape painting. The hedonistic and cerebral works of the past are only recognisable in the intensity of colour and light. There is hardly a figure in sight as he explores the Wolds of his birthplace Yorkshire in compelling depth.
There is great theatricality in the sheer scale of his works. Canvasses are huge, the largest consisting of 32 individual pieces, and they immerse the viewer in a grand spectacle of nature in all her seasonal glory. Seasons are one thing that Los Angeles, Hockney’s home of many years, lacked, and he revels in the changing moods, often revisiting a spot again and again. Much of the work consists of series, sometimes a view at different times of year, but also, as with the 52 pieces of The Arrival of Spring, a changing vantage point of a familiar area. One cannot leave without feeling that you have actually experienced a bit of the magic of Yorkshire. Some colours may seem garish, at times forms are too stylised, and purists may carp about his use of an iPad for the latest series.
What Hockney does give the viewer though, is a sense of his delight in nature and the ability to look at it anew.
This is a very different Hockney to the one on display at the Haunch of Venison’s The Mystery of Appearance, featuring ten post-war British artists (until 18 Feb). Although the luminous quality of light is there, the subject matter is much more brittle in a painting such as the erotic The Room Tarzana. Also on show is an early Lucian Freud drawing of Francis Bacon, Bacon’s snarling Pope in a cage, the thick impasto of both Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff, whose subjects are sometimes hard to decipher beneath the paint. Michael Andrews’ picture of The Thames at Low Tide gives a fascinating and disorientating perspective of the shoreline. The varied elements of the chosen artists are perhaps most interesting when viewed across the perspective of time: while Hockney has continued to develop, Patrick Caulfield’s work, for example, has hardly changed at all.