I love the wolds of East Yorkshire. Gently rolling uplands, fields interspersed with woodland, rising from the eroding coastline of the North Sea to an escarpment overlooking the Vale of York
Pleasant, plain farming villages almost invariably have nice pubs. There are a few planned estate villages, a scattering of good country houses, and many interesting churches. There’s nothing spectacular about the wolds, it’s maybe going too far to describe them as beautiful, but they are very restful, they have a good rhythm. They are also fairly empty of people. But not for long. Because this is now Hockney Country.
Having returned years ago from California and based himself in Bridlington, David Hockney sallies forth to record the changing seasons on the landscape of the wolds, sometimes at epic scale. All this is now brought together in his enormous new exhibition at London’s Royal Academy, “A Bigger Picture”. It’s proving hugely popular, a sell-out. Hockney has become a national institution to stand alongside another elderly blonde Yorkshireman he is sometimes mistaken for, Alan Bennett.
Is the show any good? Yes, certainly, with reservations. Hockney has been overproducing his landscapes - using conventional oil-on-canvas and charcoal sketches along with his iPad paintings, which when blown up have a quality well suited to his neo-Fauvist style. There is also a huge multi-camera, multi-screen video work in which you slowly travel along the very lanes that he does.
There’s too much of it. One can tire of trees, even the interestingly shaped and grouped trees of the Wolds. I’d rather he produced fewer works, and worked more on them. It’s a slight relief to escape from these to the room with examples of his earlier work in America and elsewhere.
Apart from these reservations, the show is a tour de force. Hockney has merged an old tradition - of painting landscapes in oils out in the fresh air - with the best of digital technology. My only real beef is this: the next time I head for the Wolds, the place will be crawling with Hockney acolytes.