82 Portraits and 1 Still-life
It's only been four years since the monumental A Bigger Picture exhibition, and indeed we are only six months before a significant retrospective at Tate Modern in Spring. This show is a very different animal and the artist has asked that it be considered a single work; all eighty-three paintings.
Each canvas and frame is identical in size and a slower drying more gel-heavy acrylic has been the paint throughout, brushed over initial charcoal sketches of each sitter in front of the easel. There were a few more paintings than are on display but over the three year period of their completion a few subjects sat twice and there are no duplicates in the exhibition. The still life of fruit and veg exists because one sitter never turned up for their portrait.
Of the eighty-two people who did that are hanging in the Sackler Wing of the RA, the collection flits between family and friends - and not just from LA where these works were produced but Yorkshire and England too - and contemporaries, friends and acquaintances from across California.
The galleries have been painted a deep red and this has a wondrous effect on the greens, blues, yellows and aquamarines Hockney has so enjoyed painting his subjects with. There is a real energy in the colours and a Pop sensibility in the series beyond just the idea of repetition. Some have argued the family members have made better portraits, there is more of the soul on display, a better connection between artist and sitter - in contrast I heard a passer by suggest there was an arrogance in the gallerists or art world hierarchy.
I'm not sure if it's a view point I agree with, for me this is a show that is more than the sum of its parts. The very scale of the endeavour, spending roughly twenty hours over three days with each person, painting physically this body of work and displaying it collectively as it is proves a formidable triumph beyond the nuances of the angle of the subject's chair.
https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibition/david-hockney-portraits until October 2nd