David Hockney Bigger & Closer (not smaller & further away)

Lightroom, London 22 February – 1 October

- Louise Benson

David Hockney likes looking, as he intones over his new 360-degree largescale film installati­on, “and there are a lot of di©erent ways to look at things”. The 50-minute loop of vivid colour and sound is projected across all four walls (plus the grey carpeted floor) of Lightroom, a joint venture between a production house and a theatre company, self-described as ‘a new home for spectacula­r artist-led shows’. In his gravelly Yorkshire twang, Hockney tells of his fascinatio­n with new media. His famed ipad paintings of bucolic English landscapes are animated in the process of being drawn line by line, sped-up exponentia­lly to erase any hint of hesitation or self-doubt and shown onscreen in portentous, gold-painted frames.

The voiceover, intimately spoken by Hockney in the first person, is in fact penned by a film and ®¯ writer. The film, which presents him as an artist constantly attempting to capture the reality of how we see the world, arcs from his own early experiment­s and gripes with photograph­y (“we see psychologi­cally, but cameras see geometrica­lly”), to 3¨ scanning and multicamer­a video. He grapples with the theory of linear perspectiv­e, arguing, “If our eyes move, there is not just one perspectiv­e; there are thousands of perspectiv­es. You are inside it, not outside it.” It is just one of many not-so-subtle nods to the immersive experience o©ered by Lightroom’s audiovisua­l capabiliti­es.

Hockney’s narration returns again and again to the boundaries of artmaking (and how he has consistent­ly expanded them), and to the plurality of ways in which we each experience the world, a subject not without irony given the singular focus on his own point of view throughout. The film zips through Hockney’s early days in Los Angeles, including his fascinatio­n with its perfectly turquoise pools, to Fantasia-esque animations of his luscious set designs for opera, flanked by hammy digital renderings of red velvet curtains, taking not so much a chronologi­cal as a scattergun approach to the highlights of his career.

Images of digital paintings and photograph­s multiply endlessly into smaller gridded tiles that wrap around the room, in a recurring visual motif intended to conjure the awe-inspiring range of Hockney’s vision, but which leaves the viewer straining to focus on any one of them at all. Set to a prescripti­vely emotive score by Nico Muhly, all swelling strings and tinkling piano (bar a bizarre sequence of Hockney driving in the ¦Š mountains to Wagner’s Entry of the Gods into Valhalla), mixed with the cartoonish sound of a pencil scratching over paper, the e©ect is undeniably theatrical.

Yet for all its playful animations and behind-the-scenes photograph­s, what Bigger & Closer (not smaller & further away) fails to achieve is a lasting sense of the work’s wider cultural impact. Hockney’s connection to queer culture is erased for this familyfrie­ndly a©air, while his team of assistants is not once mentioned in favour of the tired auteur narrative. By insisting that he and his work are shown ‘bigger and closer’, it is impossible to find any sense of perspectiv­e, leaving one wishing for the relief that might ultimately be found in moving further away.

 ?? Photo: Justin Sutcli©e. Courtesy Lightroom, London ?? Bigger & Closer (not smaller & further away), 2023 (installati­on view).
Photo: Justin Sutcli©e. Courtesy Lightroom, London Bigger & Closer (not smaller & further away), 2023 (installati­on view).

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