In Review

What are the critics saying about David Hockney: The Arrival of Spring?

The paintings are described as ‘fresh’ and ‘joyous’, but also ‘unremarkable’

“This time last year, our nation was in the first grip of lockdown,” said Rachel Campbell-Johnston in The Times. Yet spring, David Hockney proclaimed, could not be cancelled. To bolster our spirits, he began posting online a series of new digital paintings of the “bright spring world” of his Normandy garden; they brought “a splash of pure joy” to the “gloom” of the pandemic. Now, we have the chance to see them up close.

This new exhibition brings together 116 paintings that the 83-year-old artist created on his iPad over the course of 2020. This may not be groundbreaking stuff, but the paintings are “fresh” and “joyous”. They’re “all about light”: “the strange twilit glow of tussocks and bushes” or “the silvery gleam of a rising Moon”.

There is “little sign of human life” in these images, said Alastair Sooke in The Daily Telegraph. The subject is “nature’s irrepressible, frothing abundance”: Hockney’s pond, “dimpled with raindrops”; a tree house in a “gnarly” old pear tree; and a row of poplars that recalls Monet. But in time, “all the springtime cheer becomes a bit relentless”. These iPad “paintings” have “an airless, artificial quality” that couldn’t be further from the spirit of masterpieces from Hockney’s heyday. They’re too uniform: it’s “landscape by algorithm”.

There’s “a painful mundanity” to these works, agreed Mark Hudson in The Independent. Hockney’s “unremarkable” landscapes and clumps of “damp daffodils” are tastefully nondescript, while his usually vivid palette is dulled by the digital medium. Hockney did much to make contemporary art accessible to millions, but I fear that he has now become “a deeply conservative – and pretty dull – artist”. 

Royal Academy, London W1 (royalacademy.org.uk). Until 26 September.

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