"Do you have any tickets for David Hockney? I'd heard you were fully booked." "Yes we certainly do. Don't look so surprised, of course we sell tickets on the door. But are you sure you want to come in? We're closing at six o'clock tonight so you've only got an hour, and it is a big exhibition. That'll be fourteen pounds please."
The Royal Academy have a blockbuster on their hands with their latest Hockney exhibition - A Bigger Picture. It may not be the finest collection of art ever assembled under their roof, indeed it may be some way off, but the British public knows what it likes, and it likes paintings of seasonal trees in East Yorkshire. David lives in Bridlington, and has been out along one particular country lane to the west of the town umpteen times over the last few years. Woldgate is a former Roman road linking several areas of woodland, along and over a patchwork landscape of fields and gentle hills. Nothing special, yet with an artist's eye transformed into somewhere very special indeed.
"Can I scan your ticket please? This way thank you."
David does love painting treescapes through the seasons, as you'll see on the four walls of the first gallery. The same three trees, and a hill and a lane and a field, pictured a few months apart in various stages of leafy dress. It's easy to play Spot The Difference between each giant canvas, not just as foliage blazes and wanes, but also as the colour of the wold in the background flits from unlikely blue to bright green to delusional emerald. Get too close and Hockney's splotchy dabs are all too evident, but stand back and the impact is unexpectedly intense. It's not all trees. Room two showcases some of his earlier work - bright orange canyons, a contorted milltown, one trademark swimming pool - and then, yes, it's back to the trees again. The East Yorkshire countryside clearly inspired him, initially through larger landscape pieces (with slightly dodgy perspective), then more consistently in greater close-up.
"The gallery will be closing in thirty minutes."
A room packed with rural watercolours and oil paintings duly delights, not least because they've been painted with care and detail, and in natural colours. Elsewhere, however, David isn't afraid of throwing in vibrant purples and garish oranges that have no place in the landscape, or a collection of greens seen only in the first flush of spring. Many of his trees are trunky rather than delicately branched, with the emphasis more on form and composition than on light and shadow. Indeed you might well expect to be bored of "more bloody trees" by the fifth consecutive room of the things, but the sheer variety of subjects and angles keeps appreciation high. Bursts of blossoming hawthorn, a tunnel of trees along a farm track, a pile of felled timber - all of these help avoid too many canvases of an excessively repetitive nature.
"The gallery will be closing in fifteen minutes."
On hearing that the Royal Academy wanted to display his work, David set about creating one particularly challenging ensemble piece for the largest gallery in the exhibition. It's entitled "The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty-eleven)", and consists of one giant mural and 51 smaller illustrations. The mural's bold, symmetrical and woody, with unfeasible leaves. The smaller prints are daily snapshots captured from winter through to late spring, starting with bare snowy branches (2 January) and working round through the first buds and daffodils (25 March) to full floral hedgerows (May/June). Scan the walls and the seasons play out slowly yet subtly, to pleasing effect. And most surprising is that each picture was created on an iPad and later expanded - no brushwork required. Even aged 74, Hockney's attempting cutting edge.
"The gallery will be closing in five minutes."
A small room near the end of the exhibition features more of David's iPad treework - in a shuffling gallery, of course, as befits electronic presentation. In the cinema-style room next door, gathering the largest crowd, came a wall of screens displaying a series of tree-packed digital videos. David rigged up a jeep with nine synchronised high-definition cameras on the roof, then drove it slowly along the lanes near Woldgate during the various seasons of the year. These films are displayed in pairs on a subdivided grid, for example a lush summer 3×3 on the left, compared and contrasted to an icy winter 3×3 on the right. I'd happily have stayed to watch for much longer, but...
"The gallery is now closing. Please leave."
...I was ushered politely out, past some giant Yosemites and a final trio of Woldgates...
"The gallery is now closing. Please leave."
...into what had been the gift shop but had already closed for the night, which I suspect meant hundreds of pounds worth of potential purchases went unsold. Don't leave it until 5pm to visit, especially if you fancy a catalogue, some fridge magnets or a technicolour umbrella on the way out. And don't leave it until April, else Hockney's dayglo Piccadilly forest may well be fully booked, and then you'll never know whether you loveditornot.