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August 17 2012

At the age of 37, you needn't start dressing like J*r*my Cl*rks*n | Charlie Porter

Men may lose interest in fashion in their late 30s, but a sense of personal style is another matter

Pity poor men. It has long been a curiosity why, after a certain age, men appear to lose interest in fashion. It is a conversation which turns menswear into a forum for mockery: those that have gone to seed are scorned for the inadequacies of their appearance, while those that still make an effort are goaded for vanity or self-importance. A recent survey has made this mockery specific: it has found that the age at which men lose an interest in fashion is 37. I am 38. Poor me.

Fashion is about identity. For many men, identity is something that matters most in their years of prolonged adolescence, from their teenage years into their 20s, even early 30s. It's especially true for men whose adolescence occurred pre-internet, before social media overtook fashion as a means to express character. In the late 20th century, clothing played a primal role in youthful identity, especially with the obstinacy of punk, the baggy of acid house or even the sharpness of mod that is still so important to 32-year-old Bradley Wiggins.

In their late 30s, the need for identity in men seems to wane, overridden by the individual male's growing responsibilities or life-changes: parenthood, employment or unemployment, changes in body-shape and health. The identity of adolescence goes. Fashion goes with it.

When fashion goes, what seems to remain for men are those unprintable words: "J*r*my" and "Cl*rks*n". Of course what no one realises in this is that Cl*rks*n uses his non-identity as an identity in itself. He makes great profit from dressing badly. It is his uniform for hammy belligerence. Cl*rks*n symbolises the male menopause as a return to adolescence. Sadly, it is an adolescence stripped of its need for style and difference. The Cl*rks*n look allows men to shift from identity to non-identity as they head towards the grave.

But this is not always the case. Most of my contemporaries not working in fashion still seem alert about their appearance. As the identity of adolescence has waned for me, what has become important is how I appear to myself. I do not mean by this self-image. As I'm typing this, I can see in my lower field of vision the white shirt I'm wearing with its blue and orange polka dots. I love it being part of my visual experience. I don't care if I look daft. As long as I like it, I'm happy.

There are obvious male celebrities over the age of 37 who could be listed now as examples of middle-aged male style, but these are red herrings, usually actors involved in profiting from image to further their career. Celebrity fashion is something separate from real-life fashion, and citing male celebrities as examples of how to dress is a futile, empty exercise.

Much more interesting to cite examples of men who retain personal style for whatever reason of their own:

Chris Dercon, the new director of Tate Modern, is an extraordinarily dapper man, now in his 50s. He has a particular way with wearing jackets and coats with an upturned collar.

Seventy-five-year-old David Hockney has long dressed his body in the colour that is placed on his canvases, or more recently selected on his iPad.

The 40-year-old Savile Row tailor Patrick Grant came to his profession from his love of clothing and his continuing interest in how garments are made. And it is clear from the severity of 53-year-old Steven Patrick Morrissey's obsessions that he would have dressed in his chosen manner even if he'd not become globally known by his surname.

Examples of such personal style go deep into the past. The recent male fondness for Breton striped sweaters always makes me think of Pablo Picasso. The multidiscipline of Jean Cocteau extended to the drama of his clothing. And examples of male style beyond the age of 37 will only increase in the future. Today's post-internet male adolescents take looking good for granted, their appearance ever Instagram-ready. Cl*rks*n already feels antiquated. When post-internet adolescents reach maturity, he will have been an aberration. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

August 12 2012

London 2012: Team arts go for gold

David Hockney fumed at the opening, Gillian Wearing captured Bolt, and Susan Philipsz mashed up some anthems . . . but what else happened when we challenged artists to respond to the Games?

Opening ceremony

David Hockney
The painter and committed smoker was inspired by a detail in Danny Boyle's spectacular that passed others by: Isambard Kingdom Brunel's unlit cigar – and this in spite of belching chimneys and live soldering. Hockney's iPad painting appeared in last week's g2, and read: "I noticed there was a lot of smoke from fireworks but none from Brunel's cigar. Does this mean that the BBC sees art as directive (unlit) and not reflective (lit)? Debate." People did (look up the comments).

Day three

Olafur Eliasson
The artist who put an artificial sun into Tate Modern's Turbine Hall used one of his own-design solar lamps to pay tribute to the Olympians' speed and dynamism. He wrote: "For me, the Games are about being together, about sharing attention and ideals. They are about feeling connected to people from all over the world, physical engagement and energy. Light generates action: it is as physical as anything you will see in the Olympics."

Day four

Mark Titchner
The Turner 2006 nominee picked up on the anxious mood of the early days, before the medal rush. One layer of text in his artwork quotes from the tabloid press ("Historic bronze for our brilliant gymnasts, but please can we have just one gold. Any sport"); the other layer pays tribute to Team GB's eventing horses: Lionheart, Opposition Buzz, High Kingdom, Miners Frolic, Imperial Cavalier ("Do they get medals, too?").

Day five

Richard Wentworth
The sculptor, curator and lecturer took a break from a camping trip (location undisclosed) to watch Bradley Wiggins take gold in the time trial. He wrote: "The 30-year habit of summer camping sets me apart from world events. Catching sight of televisions in bars is the kind of glimpsing I enjoy – images, languages and events all arbitrarily associated with time and displacement. The latch on this door will remind me of the warm domestic afternoon in early August 2012 when our friends invited us to watch London as a site of Olympic spectacle. An odd thing if you know the city well, but much stranger if you are camping a long way away."

Day six

Michael Rosen
The poet and former children's laureate performed his own new poem about gold medal anxiety – still an issue even at this stage, with Team GB behind France. "I love sport," Rosen said, "but become uneasy when it is overly shackled to nation, corporate grabbing and only-first-will-do-ism. All three and I'm nearly out of here. Imagine there's no countries, it's easy if you try." Here's an extract from his Olympic poem:

I've got gold medal anxiety, gold medal neurosis
doctor doctor give me a diagnosis
Day 1 day 2 day 3 day 4
you was down I was on the floor
feeling such a failure
would I finish below Australia?
Then from the heavens came day 5
I discovered the reasons I am alive
better than when I met Christopher Biggins
Glover, Stanning and Bradley Wiggins.

I've got gold medal anxiety, gold medal neurosis
doctor doctor give me a diagnosis

Then before I came to grief
came the moment of pure relief
as the afternoon began to unfold
I ... won ... double gold.
And yet I had cause to fret
there were silvers for me to regret
I gave the medal table a glance:
Horrors! ... Above Brand GB ... France!
• Read the poem in full

Day nine

Gillian Wearing
The Turner prize 2007 winner was in the Olympic stadium on Sunday 5 August as Usain Bolt crossed the 100m finish line, and took this image (right). She said: "I got into track and field through watching Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett's memorable races against each other at the Moscow 1980 Olympics. After that, I have never missed the opportunity to be a couch Olympics supporter. I was in row 48 of the stadium, quite high up, but just above the finishing line. This image is just after the 100m final. Both Chris Gatlin and Usain Bolt have cameras trained on them. In the corner of the image, Yohan Blake, the silver medal winner, congratulates Gatlin on his bronze."

Day 11

Jackie Kay
The poet and novelist read three new poems, a kind of writer's triathlon, inspired by the Brownlee brothers' medal success in that event, as well as Team GB performances in javelin and cycling. She wrote: "I was struck by the idea that sharing somebody's disappointment is as intense and intimate as sharing their success. I used to be a long-distance runner, a Scottish schoolgirl champion, until I broke my leg and didn't walk properly for a year and a half. So I was thinking about that, too. How quickly we move into our unfit futures!" Here's the final leg of her poem, Point of View:

Farewell Victoria Pendleton
It was a day of drama in the velodrome
As you watched agog, OMG,
As Trott took the omnium
Against the odds of a collapsed lung
Coming home, coming home.
Not one but two golds to her name.
You saw the photo of not so long ago
With young Laura and her Bradley hero.
Not long later, you watched Victoria
Who rode as close to her rival
As a synchronised swimmer
And all the drama was in the lane error
Where the line was crossed in the velodrome
As close as step to pets; palindromes,
The Mearest of lines, the closing line.

So, farewell Victoria dearest, you say.
You salute her. She runs her last lap, and bows.
The last time I'm going to go through that, she says.
And even her brave coach is in bits.
We knew it would end in tears, the TV says.
And they roll down your cheeks too – your armchair, you.
The greatest ever theatre – sport's soap opera.
Victoria. Oh Victoria. Collect your silver!
Your ordeal is over: take your seat on the throne.
Read the poem in full

Day 13

Cornelia Parker
The sculptor and installation artist took this image of her own living room, explaining: "I haven't been able to focus on art since the Olympics started, not quite managing to peel my eyes away from the TV. After too many days of viewing, gorged with patriotism and pride, I starting to behave oddly … too much information perhaps, too much success. Now I find myself draping my daughter's union flag over the TV in a feeble attempt to blot it out – but in the process I manage to cause a minor marital rift as my enraged husband misses a crucial bit of action."

Day 14

Wolfgang Tillmans
The artist and photographer, newly returned to London from Berlin, took this photograph of an Olympic traffic lane in east London. The lanes are now suspended but will come back into force for the start of the Paralympics. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

August 03 2012

Art and the hidden depths of the humble public pool

The swimming pool is not just a place of pilgrimage for leading Olympians – it has also inspired some of the 20th century's most memorable art. Artist and novelist Leanne Shapton, herself a former competitive swimmer, chooses 10 of the greatest works of art based around the baths

Drawing for 'Children's Swimming Pool', Leon Kossoff, 1971

Kossoff's charcoal study for his oil painting Children's Swimming Pool, Autumn Afternoon is of a public pool in Willesden, London, near his studio, where he took his son to learn to swim. Kossoff captures the wild energy of an indoor pool overtaken by children during a public session. His vigorous lines, bobbing heads and sharp elbows remind us that as well as being pristine and serene, pools can also be aggressive and feral. The piece is audible, one can imagine the echoing hollers of the children, the heavy odour of chlorine and the lurking verruca.

Nine Swimming Pools, Ed Ruscha, 1968

Among the hundreds of gorgeous photographic images of swimming pools, this grid of colour photos that Ed Ruscha conceived in 1968 stands out as my favourite. The nine pools depicted are glassy, blue and bright, and while they are absent of figures, (only wet footprints leading off a diving board) they shimmer with the American dream. Each photo offers its own condensed version of public or private water; together, they simultaneously deliver the yearning of Sunset Boulevard, the challenge of competition, the seduction of youth, the promise of sunshine, as well as the shallow transience of motel life.

Pool Shapes, Claes Oldenburg, 1964

Oldenburg's palette is consumer goods, and his four bright blue swimming pool designs bluntly and directly convey his interest in the choices we are offered. The piece is a copy of an advertisement with the type removed, and the reframing of these simple diagrams of backyard pools, with their bubbly rounded shapes and shallow steps, is typical of Oldenburg's humour and playfulness. The image appears on the cover of a 1966 catalogue of his early sketches, diagrams and photos, produced by Stockholm's Moderna Museet for an early solo show of his work.

Ellipsis (II), Roni Horn, 1998

Rather than making the tank of water the subject, Roni Horn shifts her focus to the locker room of a swimming pool she loves in Reykavik, Iceland. Her large (8 x 8ft) monochrome grid of 64 iris prints shuffle the viewer through a warren of slick cubicles and halls. In an interview, Horn described the endless tiled surface and peepholed doors as a voyeristic delight, and explained that she "…shot it in a way to bring out more of the sensual aspect to balance against the antiseptic quality of the architecture".

Le bain mystérieux, Giorgio de Chirico, 1938

Giorgio de Chirico's series of bathers and labyrinthine pools, done between 1934 and 1973, began when Jean Cocteau asked the artist to provide illustrations for his book Mythology. He returned to this theme – men, both fully dressed and nude, in and around pools that were connected by twisting canals and surrounded by cabanas – for years after. He always depicted the water as a herringbone parquet, inspired by one day observing sunlight reflected on a highly polished floor. In this series, the founder of metaphysical painting hauntingly evokes dreams of water, submersion and classical Grecian imagery.

Gatsby, Dexter Dalwood, 2009

Pools are often used in literature and film as symbols of hedonism, seduction or danger. In F Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel The Great Gatsby, the pool manifests all three, finally submerging its eponymous hero in its eighth chapter. In his painting Gatsby, Dexter Dalwood, whose subject matter often involves the locations of violent tragedies (other titles: Kurt Cobain's Greenhouse, Sharon Tate's Living Room), gives us the melancholy millionaire Jay Gatsby's sunlit backyard pool in West Egg, and an inflatable red air mattress overtaken by its shadow: a fitting metaphor for Fitzgerald's haunted hero.

New Yorker cover, Richard McGuire, 2008

New York City is not known for abundant outdoor swimming pools, which is why this New Yorker cover illustration, Swim, Swam, Swum, a rendition of the Carmine Street pool in Greenwich Village, is so charming. It showcases the beloved city pool (featured in Martin Scorsese's film Raging Bull and Larry Clark's Kids, and flanked by a 1987 Keith Haring mural). Illustrator Richard McGuire is a master of reductive line. He's a regular New Yorker cover artist, designs toys and games, makes wildly popular comics, children's books and haunting animations, and lives a block from the pool.

Poster for 1972 Olympics, David Hockney, 1972

David Hockney is the undisputed king of swimming pool art. His paintings of Hollywood pools, replete with big splashes, submerged figures and undulating ripples, gave us an iconic Californian landscape that still defines a certain kind of languid and lush west-coast sensuality. My favourite piece of his, however, and one I work beneath every day, is his poster for the 1972 Munich Olympics, which depicts a diver, suspended over a wobbling sunlit grid of aquamarine, the moment before he slices through the water. (Josef Albers and RB Kitaj also did swimming-themed posters in this series.)

Floating Swimming Pool, Rem Koolhaas, 1978

Rem Koolhaas's pool illustrates the last chapter of his book Delirious New York. It's an Orwellian fable about a group of Soviet architecture students who build a vast, floating swimming pool that they propel across the Atlantic by swimming laps. The journey to New York takes 40 years, and the pool's arrival is met with a hostility they had not anticipated. Koolhaas, himself an avid swimmer, satirises the utopian beginnings of Russian constructivism and its slow morph into corporate American modernism with his usual intellect, idealism and rancour.

Aquis Submersus, Max Ernst, 1919

In one of his earliest surrealist pieces, Max Ernst offers us a melancholy and disturbing night swim, though a clock in the sky indicates 4:42 and the shadows cast by a handlebar-moustachioed man are long. A sense of unease and suspense shroud the work. The clock is reflected in the pool as a moon, the lonely buildings around the pool appear empty, the upside-down figure of a swimmer is weirdly still. The painting shares a title with an 1876 novella by Theodor Storm, about a long-thwarted love and the drowning death of a boy, as narrated by a painter. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

August 02 2012

Edinburgh art festival - in pictures

From Mickey and Minnie tapestries to movie screenings for monkeys, Edinburgh art festival has the lot. Plus, new and rare works by Susan Philipsz, Vincent van Gogh, David Hockney and Dieter Roth

August 01 2012

Tehran exhibition reveals city's hidden Warhol and Hockney treasures

Paintings collected with help of Iran's last queen, Farah Pahlavi, and safeguarded in museum basement, on show for first time

It is the finest collection of modern art anywhere outside Europe and the US, boasting works by Jackson Pollock, Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, Edvard Munch, René Magritte and Mark Rothko.

But the pieces have been stacked in the basement of Tehran's Museum of Contemporary Art for more than 30 years, gathering dust in storage. Censors in Iran classed some as un-Islamic, pornographic or too gay, and they have never been shown in public. Others have been displayed only once or twice.

But now a number of the collection's paintings are on show for the first time in Tehran as part of the museum's Pop Art & Op Art exhibition, featuring works by Warhol, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Victor Vasarely, Richard Hamilton and Jasper Johns.

"Many of the works in the exhibition are shown for the first time," Hasan Noferesti, the museum's director for art programmes, told the Mehr news agency. "The exhibition aims to show the evolution of these artistic movements."

More than 100 pieces from the museum's remarkable collection are on display, according to Mehr, along with a series of works from Mexico that have been dedicated to the museum in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Mexican revolution and the 200th anniversary of the country's independence.

James Rosenquist, Jim Dine, Larry Rivers and RB Kitaj are among other artists whose works are in the exhibition, which runs until mid-August.

Iran's unique hidden treasure was bought before the Islamic revolution, under the supervision of Farah Pahlavi, the former queen of Iran, who fled the country with the late shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979.

The 38-year reign of the shah, self-proclaimed kings of kings, came to an end after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned from exile to Tehran receiving a hero's welcome and founded the Islamic republic.

The collection includes Pollock's Mural on Indian Red Ground, considered to be one of his most important works and estimated to be worth more than $250m, as well as important pieces by Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, Whistler and Marcel Duchamp.

There are even pieces by artists whom the former empress met in person, including the Russian-French painter Marc Chagall and the English sculptor Henry Moore. The collection is thought to be worth more than $2.5bn.

Speaking to the Guardian, Pahlavi explained that the collection was bought during Iran's 1970s oil boom. "Our oil revenue had significantly increased and I spoke to [the shah] and Amir-Abbas Hoveyda [then prime minister], and told them that it was the best time to buy some of our ancient works both internally and from outside.

"I thought how good it would be to have a museum where we could put the works of our contemporary artists. Later I thought, why shouldn't we include foreign works. This is how it all started … at that time our curators and collectors were mostly interested in traditional art and not so much in the modern art."

Pahlavi's interest in western art is believed to derive from her education in France.

Kamran Diba, an Iranian architect and a cousin of the queen, was commissioned to design the museum in the heart of the capital and later selected the works with help from various people, including the presidents of Christie's and Sotheby's.

Pahlavi said: "I was very worried for the fate of those paintings during those events [at the time of the revolution], I was worried that the revolutionaries would destroy them. But fortunately the museum staff protected them in the basement.

"Some years ago the director of the museum showed some of the pieces and made a catalogue listing the works. I'm happy that people have realised what was hidden there for years."

Between 1997 and 2005, during the mandate of the former reformist president Mohammad Khatami, when restrictions on art were temporarily relaxed, Alireza Samiazar, then head of the museum, struggled to secure permission for the first display of some of the works.

In 2005, to the dismay of the regime's hardliners, a large number of the paintings were brought out for an exhibition. That show sparked controversy. Francis Bacon's Two Figures Lying on a Bed with Attendants, with seeming homosexual content, was deemed inappropriate and removed from the exhibition. However, many contentious works survived the censors. Andy Warhol's portraits of Mick Jagger and Marilyn Monroe are in Tehran and his paintings of Mao Zedong have been put on display in full for the first time in the pop art exhibition.

Despite the contempt of Tehran's rulers for western art, the collection has been safely guarded – bar a Warhol portrait of Pahlavi herself, which, she said, had been cut with a knife.

In 1994 the museum exchanged one of its many remarkable paintings – Woman III, by the Dutch-American expressionist Willem de Kooning – for a rare illuminated volume of Shahnameh, an ancient Persian poetry book, which belonged to the American art collector Arthur Houghton, because the painting had shown too much nudity in the eyes of the authorities.

The swap infuriated many, including Pahlavi. "If they were really interested in Shahnameh, couldn't they pay $6m and keep De Kooning's painting? The US businessman David Geffen, who bought the painting for some $20m, sold it for $110m few years ago. The De Kooning exchange is the sole exchange they've done so far and I hope it remains the last one."

Of the many ironies surrounding the artwork is the fact that Iran's powerful Guardian Council, a group of clerics, intervened a decade ago to forbid the selling or exchange of the works because, they said, trade in un-Islamic and pornographic works was prohibited.

Ali Amini Najafi, an Iranian art critic based in Germany, said: "The works in the collection are not randomly or arbitrarily chosen, it is clear that people involved in selecting them had a consistent plan to pick relevant and significant samples to depict the evolution of modern art and also to make sure that all movements from impressionists to pop art are represented.

"This collection was gathered at a defining moment of our history when Iranians were taking distance from their traditional past and were showing curiosity with modern art." © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

July 30 2012

The Olympics in art: David Hockney

To kick off a two-week series of exclusive artists' responses to the Olympics, David Hockney gives his reaction to Danny Boyle's opener

June 08 2012

Another wind turbine rouses campaigners on Yorkshire's coastal cliffs

Protests supported by David Hockney are revived, as proposals for a Flambrough tower replace those recently withdrawn near Bempton's famous seabird reserve

Local people's defeat of a controversial wind turbine proposal at Bempon, close to the famous seabird nesting cliffs on the Yorkshire coast, has been followed by only the briefest of respites.

The call to arms has gone out again almost immediately, to fight a similar application close to South Landing and Danes Dyke on that famous county landmark, Flamborough Head.

Taller by 25 feet than Flamborough lighthouse at 112 feet, the tower is the latest of an extraordinary run of applications in the East Riding which have aroused huge concern and been the subject of previous Guardian Northerner posts. Opponents include David Hockney whose work and crowd-pulling exhibitions at Saltaire and the Royal Academy have been a tonic for visitor numbers to the quiet beauties of the Wolds this year.

Bempton parish council and the town council in Bridlington, where Hockney lives much of the time, voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday 6 June to object to the latest planning application. Flamborough parish council meets on Monday and is expected to take a similar view. Holiday camp owners, buoyed up by the Government's recent U-turn on VAT and static caravans, are joining the campaign.

The tower would be built at Hartendale Farm, some 600 metres from Flamborough village and fewer than 250 metres from the noble cliffs. David Hinde of No to Wolds Windfarms says:

The site is surrounded by some of the most important wildlife sites in the whole of the UK as well as the Flamborough Headland Heritage Coast Landscape, designated by Natural England and with the highest protection rating possible

The turbine would be be highly visually intrusive from Bridlington bay, Bempton cliffs, many parts of Flamborough, the heritage features of the ancient Danes Dyke earthwork and coastal footpaths around South Landing as well as the country park heritage trail.

Campaigners are also determined to keep turbines out of a proposed 'Yorkshire nature triangle' which would link the famous Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reserve at Bempton cliffs to the Living Seas Centre which is being built at South Landing. The RSPB plans to expand its facilities and the project is reckoned to have great potential in terms of attracting more visitors and creating tourism jobs.

So far, East Riding of Yorkshire district council has received 36 objections to the new application. The Bempton turbine, proposed for Norway farm on Cliff Lane, was withdrawn after 169 objections and well-publicised protests from local people, visitors to the bird reserve and the Ministry of Defence which has radar facilities at nearby Staxton Wold.

The Hartendale farm application is Ref 12/01846/PLF and can be seen on the East Riding council's website or via County Hall, Beverley HU17 9BA Tel: 01482 393939. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 29 2012

Tate's new gifts

Works by David Hockney, Lucian Freud, R B Kitaj and Rachel Whiteread are among the nine being gifted by philanthropists Mercedes and Ian Stoutzker

Tate given artworks by David Hockney, Lucian Freud and Rachel Whiteread

Mercedes and Ian Stoutzker donate nine works of modern art to fill gaps in Tate's collection

Nine works of art have been given to the Tate, including a David Hockney, a Lucian Freud and Rachel Whiteread's maquette for her Trafalgar Square plinth.

Mercedes and Ian Stoutzker, a married couple who have been generous supporters of the arts over a number of years, announced they were to give works which fill gaps in the Tate collection.

"The gift was an initiative from the Stoutzkers," said the Tate director, Nicholas Serota. "They don't receive any tax benefit from this gift but in the current climate they were very keen to make it public because they wanted to encourage others to give works to the national collection."

Many senior figures in the arts fear such acts of philanthropy will be fewer unless George Osborne rethinks the budget decision to end tax relief on philanthropic giving.

The arts minister, Ed Vaizey, said the government had done a lot to encourage philanthropy and the chancellor "has raised an important issue, addressed it in the budget and is listening to people making representations. Large donors have made important points about how any changes should be implemented and I'm sure the Treasury will listen to those."

Serota said the Tate collection had benefited from major gifts from successive generations over the years including from Alistair McAlpine and Janet de Botton, and the Stoutzker gift was of a similar significance.

The works will go on display together in October and then gradually arrive in the Tate collection, with the last being on their deaths.

The Stoutzker gift essentially represents two generations of artists. There is a Jacob Epstein bust of Freud made in 1947; a small oil painting by Freud himself, Girl in a Striped Nightdress, or Celia 1983-5; RB Kitaj's homage to Francis Bacon, Synchromy with FB – General of Hot Desire 1968-9; and a Hockney painting of the Savings and Loan Building in Los Angeles.

The later works are a Peter Doig snow scene from 2001-02; Whiteread's maquette for her Trafalgar Square commission in 2001 which was a resin cast of the plinth itself; the Hurvin Anderson oil painting Maracus 111 from 2004; a Conrad Shawcross maquette for his large-scale work Continuum, a three-metre-high sculpture commissioned by the National Maritime Museum; and George Shaw's Ash Wednesday, 8.30am from 2004-05, one of a number of Humbrol enamel paintings the artist has made over the years of the Coventry housing estate where he grew up. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 22 2012

Magic sisters realise Chelsea Flower Show golden dream

The all-powerful Brontes sweep rivals aside as Yorkshire gets its long-for top medal at last

They tried ever so hard once, and got silver. Then they tried ever so hard again, and got silver again. But this year the Yorkshire garden at Chelsea has finally achieved its ambition, and been awarded a Royal Horticultural Society gold medal.

That's what the biggest and brashest of England's counties naturally expects; (actually – interesting fact - historic Yorkshire also contains England's second-biggest county: the West Riding on its own beats Devon, Lincolnshire and other such rivals). But the organisers made the mistake of not enlisting the magical powers of the Mighty Sisters until now.

In 2010, the garden was themed on rhubarb and custard, picking up the lore and legend of the 'rhubarb-growing triangle' between Wakefield, Pontefract and Leeds. Last year, a rather architectural construction of drystone walls and the like drew on Yorkshire Artists, with references to David Hockney, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore.

But at last, this year, Charlotte, Emily and Bronte appeared in a dream to Gary Verity, the chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire which organises the garden, and said: "Daft ha'porth. It's us you need."

So it has proved. The massive metropolitan cliché mill grinds out unswerving descriptions of the sisters and their moors as wuthering and howling, but we who live here know better. Charlotte herself wrote of Emily after her death and how:

There is not a knoll of heather, not a branch of fern, not a young bilberry leaf, not a fluttering lark or linnet, but reminds me of her

And Emily carolled in one of her perhaps less original poems:

May flowers are opening
And leaves unfolding free
There are bees in every blossom
And birds in every tree.

Anyway, Verity arose and his staff carried out the ghostly instructions, recreating the 'Bronte bridge' which crosses the Bronte beck by the Bronte waterfalls on the way to Top Withens (aka Wuthering Heights) above the sisters' home village of Haworth. They also crammed in a goodly stock of plants, making the composition more garden than artificial construction. Although the Brontes were not actually very good gardeners themselves, as the Guardian Northerner recently described, they would surely have approved.

Verity says:

The garden has had a non-stop stream of admirers since The Chelsea Flower Show opened but this was the ultimate goal, taking gold back to Yorkshire. This is the third time we've entered and we're delighted to be going home with a gold medal for the first time. We hope to convert thousands of well-wishers into tourists over the course of the week.

Tracy Foster, the garden's designer from Leeds, worked closely with the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth throughout the project, describes how the garden tried to source materials from nearby, including boulders from Dove Stones moor:

The stone is beautiful. We have deliberately not cleaned it so it has aged naturally and it is of the period when the girls would have been walking around the Yorkshire Moors and writing their novels. The stone still has its original lichens and mosses attached which look just perfect in the garden and really give a sense of the beauty and bleakness that epitomise the wonderful moorland landscape.

She is properly over the moon, deservedly:

My first Chelsea and I get gold, it doesn't get much better than this! I'm so proud of what we have achieved. I hope the high profile medal inspires more people to come to Yorkshire to see for themselves the landscape that brought gold to the garden.

Always good at linking things, Welcome to Yorkshire has just unveiled a gardens campaign which highlights some of the best gardens to visit in Yorkshire. You can also see three films here which the Guardian Northerner team made last year of the progress of the Art of Yorkshire entry. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 18 2012

A little house made of human skin

Poignant, thoughtful and exhilarating by turns, the art of the family comes to the Laing in Newcastle. The Guardian Northerner's arts explorer Alan Sykes finds much to enjoy and admire

Family Matters, which opens at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle today, Friday 18 May, shows over 60 artists and their very differing depictions of the family, going back to a 1542 portrait after Holbein of Edward VI aged six, and on to the 21st century.

The exhibition is organised around five broad – and overlapping - themes:
inheritance; childhood; couples & kinship; parenting and home.

Perhaps not surprisingly, death is frequently in the foreground or background of the paintings. Poor young Edward VI, dressed up in imitation of Holbein's grandiosifying iconography of Henry VIII to symbolise the power and continuity of the Tudor dynasty, only survived his father by a few years and died a teenager. Donald Rodney's 1996-7 "In the House of My Father" is a photograph of a miniature house held in the artist's hand. The house is made of skin removed from Rodney in operations for the sickle cell anaemia which was to kill him only a year later, aged 37.

In Gainsborough's charming "The Painter's Daughters Chasing a Butterfly" from the National Gallery, it is thought that the fragile butterfly may have been the painters way of depicting his older daughter Mary, who had died young. Sometimes the portraits are even done post mortem. In Pompeo Batoni's "The Hon Thomas and Mrs Barrett-Lennard with the daughter Barbara Anne", the daughter had been dead for a year when the grieving couple arrived in Rome on a grand tour. The painter had to make the likeness of Barbara Anne from a miniature which the Barrett-Lennards carried with them. Van Dyck's portrait of Venetia Digby was apparently commissioned by her widower, who had plaster casts of her face, hands and feet taken after her death. The sitter had died very suddenly and mysteriously aged only 32, and some suspicion of foul play fell on the husband, but nothing has ever been proved.

It's not all doom and death, however. Zoffany's amusing picture of David Garrick in drag and a rage in Vanbrugh's "The Provok'd Wife" is here, contrasting with the amusing for different reasons and much more overtly theatrical "The Prodigal Daughter" of 1903, by John Collier, in which a modern and independent-minded young woman is pitched against her Victorian-in-every-sense parents.

David Hockney's "My Parents", of 1977, shows his mother smiling fondly at her talented son, while his father is hunched over a copy of "Art & Photography" - apparently he was inclined to fidget when sitting if not allowed to read - while in a mirror on the chest we see a reflection of Piero della Francesca's "The Baptism of Christ" from the National Gallery. Michael Andrews' touching "Melanie and me Swimming" shows the artist teaching his daughter to swim, and looks at parenthood from the opposite end of the lens to Hockney.

Of course, one can have fun thinking of works that could have been included – I would have loved to have seen the extraordinary 1635 portrait">portrait of Sir Colin Campbell, 8th laird of Glenorchy, and his seven ancestral predecessors as laird, by George Jamesone, from the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. And some one can do without: even the Laing's Marie-Thérèse Mayne admitted that Joshua Reynolds' "The Age of Innocence" portrait of a young child is "cloyingly sweet", and it certainly makes one understand why the Pre-Raphaelites lampooned him as "Sir Sloshua Reynolds".

Although the "themes", which are enforced through colour-coding in the labels and in the catalogue - which is irritatingly divided into 5 flimsy pamphlets with no index, rather than being in a single handy volume - are too vague to be of any real use, there are certainly enough treasures to make it worth visiting the Laing to enjoy this free show. Other artists in the show include Gillian Wearing, Rachel Whiteread, Vanessa Bell, Mona Hatoum, Sickert, Stanley Spencer, Lely, Julia Margaret Cameron and Allan Ramsay.

Councillor Ged Bell, Chair of Tyne & Wear Joint Museums & Archives Committee (which runs the Laing and other museums and galleries in Tyne & Wear), says:

"It's very exciting to see the North East being involved in a partnership such as this Great British Art Debate project. The North East, as well as the rest of the UK has a wonderful artistic heritage which powerfully illustrates our sense of who we are and the Great British Art Debate is designed to encourage people to take part in an important debate about Britishness."

The Laing is one of the venues in Newcastle and Gateshead which will be taking part in this year's "The Late Shows", which takes place on the evenings of Friday 18 and Saturday 19 May, and this year includes a ukele jam session in the Sage Music Centre, a Space Hopper disco in the Shed, Gateshead, tours of the Victoria Tunnel under the streets of Newcastle, new sculptures at the Mining Institute and exhibitions and events in over 50 other venues – all accessible via a free bus service. Last year 24,000 people visited the 46 participating venues over the two nights, and this year the organisers hope to break that record.

"Family Matters" has been seen at the Norwich Castle Museum and at Museums Sheffield. It is on at the Laing until 2 September and then travels to Tate Britain (1 October to 21 December). © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 09 2012

Peter Duggan's Artoons: David Hockney

In cartoonist Peter Duggan's latest take on art history, we dive back into David Hockney's photo album to see if a third group of friends made A Bigger Splash than his last set of visitors

March 04 2012

A Bigger Splash

(Jack Hazan, 1973, BFI, 15)

Among the most strikingly original films on a modern artist (as arresting as Clouzot's Le Mystère Picasso), Jack Hazan's picture takes its title from David Hockney's most famous painting and is neither fly-on-the-wall cinema vérité nor formal documentary. It's a film shot over three years in the early 1970s by a film-maker (credited as co-writer, director and director of photography) fascinated by Hockney's portraits, made with the artist's partial and reluctant participation, and without any specific scenario or agenda. From the semi-improvised, unscripted material, Hazan carved a story tracing the disintegration of the affair between Hockney and his lover and model, the Californian Peter Schlesinger. Incorporated into this episode narrative are members of the flamboyant, charismatic, hard-working artist's circle, most notably Henry Geldzahler, Patrick Proctor, Celia Birtwell and Ossie Clark, the subjects of several key portraits.

Hockney was initially horrified by the movie's intimacy, but was soon persuaded by his friends of its brilliance, and indeed it is an insightful portrait of the artist and his world, artfully organised and beautifully lit. Now nearly 40 years later, in this dual-format DVD and Blu-ray version, we can observe Hockney handling emotional and painterly problems at a key junction in his career and admire the way Hazan has captured the hedonistic gay culture of 1970s. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

February 19 2012

Picasso and Modern British Art – review

Tate Britain, London

Soames Forsyte, of John Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga, must be the most enterprising art collector in British fiction. At the end of the first world war, while others are still investing in John Singer Sargent, he takes a punt on a work by Pablo Picasso. It is true that Forsyte doesn't struggle to save it when his house catches fire –Dégas take priority – but his prescience has already been established. Forsyte was buying Picasso long before his real-life British counterparts.

How late we were to acquire (if not love) Picasso is one of two stories in Tate Britain's big spring show. It's a cracking tale of politics, class and cultural cringe, more or less pieced together through the captions and catalogue.

The other story is of Picasso's influence on British art. You might argue – the curators do – that Picasso is almost synonymous with modernism and therefore his influence is diffuse. But this show is very precisely focused. It looks at three artists who paid sharp attention without being overwhelmed – Wyndham Lewis, Francis Bacon, David Hockney – and five more who swooned. It is told in 150 works, almost half of them by Picasso; the comparison is frequently cruel.

Picasso's first British airing was in Roger Fry's momentous Manet and the Post-Impressionists in 1910. Putrescence, pornography, infection: the press blew up like bullfrogs and were still mocking the Spaniard in 1949 when the Tate finally acquired its first cubist Picasso. Only the Bloomsberries and a handful of Forsytes bought him. "I find him perfectly charming and quite easy and simple," wrote Vanessa Bell from Paris with telling complacency. If his admirers couldn't see the complexities, then what hope for a public who scarcely saw his work in museums before the second world war?

The attention from Bloomsbury may have been a curse. When Picasso stayed at the Savoy in 1919, designing ropey costumes for Diaghilev (exhaustively represented here, and not a patch on Bakst), the group monopolised him in Garsington and Gordon Square. Other British artists were suspicious, and as the excellent catalogue puts it: "his presence left scarcely any mark on British art".

The exception at this stage was Duncan Grant, whose weak pastiches are an embarrassment to this show. "Why, when I ask about modern artists in England, am I always told about Duncan Grant?" Picasso is said to have inquired. It doesn't get much better later on with Ben Nicholson's guitars and Gallicised still-lifes in the 1930s. "Au Chat Botté Dieppe" is neatly lettered across a tabletop viewed through a window, all done in quasi-fractured planes and chalky tones – cubism Cornish-style.

Nicholson, displaying the anxiety of influence, nicknamed the Spaniard "Piccy" and "Picz". Henry Moore shrewdly avoided all mention of his artistic forebear. To appreciate the necessity of this tactic you need only compare Picasso's The Source with Moore's Reclining Figure, two monumental figures placed conveniently adjacent at Tate Britain, and ask yourself whether the latter is likely to have come into being without the former.

It is one of a dozen instances in this show of something pretty near to plagiarism. Each artist has a different Picasso: cubist for Grant and Nicholson, neoclassicist for Moore, surrealist for Francis Bacon. The Bacon room is the least impressive because it insists upon the similarities between the open-mouthed figures in Picasso's Dinard period and those in Bacon's Crucifixion paintings as if they had a shared idiom, meaning or impact. Bacon acknowledged Picasso very readily, but whatever he absorbed feels quite inconsequential to the exuberant agony and grandeur of his art.

If Bacon looks diminished, imagine the effect on everyone else. Graham Sutherland comes over as a second-rate copyist, David Hockney as a lightweight comedian pulling cubist effects with his camera. Hockney can take care of himself, of course, but what is the lasting value of a show where so much of the art is effectively downgraded?

There are masterpieces: several Picassos, including his beautiful portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter, her face two kissing forms like the new moon holding the old in its arms, silky flesh bathed in moonlight, and Wyndham Lewis's Workshop, that marvellous concatenation of geometric planes in coruscating pinks and mustards that almost resolve into windows, ladders and shelves, by day and also, as it seems, by night.

If this relates to Picasso, it is via futurism, and speaking not of pictorial languages so much as the dynamism of modern life. And that is how it goes at Tate Britain: surely Grant got more from Matisse? If Lewis, then why not William Roberts? Did they really mean to make the British look so puny? Extraneous questions are raised from one room to the next; it is no way to experience art.

How Picasso finally arrived in Britain, how his communism affected Anglo-Saxon attitudes, who saw his work when and how they responded: Picasso and Modern British Art is tremendously enlightening – as a catalogue. The show is another matter. It needs to fit the pictures to the text and ends up shrinking the art. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

February 03 2012

David Hockney auction to sell 150 artworks

Hockney On Paper sale at Christie's to include etchings inspired by Hogarth, 1954 lithograph and work from his time in America

The past few years have seen David Hockney experimenting with iPads and iPhones, but an auction at Christie's in London will focus on work made with the most basic of art materials. Hockney on Paper will see almost 150 works go under the hammer, from the artist's 1954 lithograph of a fish and chip shop owned by friends of his parents in Bradford, to photomontages of the 1980s.

The sale, on 17 February, will feature numerous works from the artist's years in America, including a set of 16 etchings based on Hogarth's The Rake's Progress and others inspired by the young Hockney's experiences in New York. The etchings are expected to sell for between £150,000 and £200,000, with the whole auction estimated at £1m. On Monday Hockney visited the Royal College of Art in London (RCA), where he graduated 50 years ago, as part of its 175th anniversary celebrations. He told the Guardian: "Drawing and painting was the centre of the old college and I don't know whether it is now, but I always think the phrase 'back to the drawing board' tells you something, doesn't it? Drawing – it's still there. Nothing's altered in that way."

The auction will feature the 1962 sketch The Diploma, which Hockney drew in protest when the RCA said it would not let him graduate. He had refused to write the essay required for the final examination, stating that he should be assessed solely on his artworks. Recognising his talent and growing reputation, the RCA changed its regulations and awarded the diploma.

Hockney's current show at London's Royal Academy has received huge public acclaim, with all advance tickets sold out, though some critics have been less enthusiastic. Hockney said he had watched the reaction unfold on Twitter, although he did not tweet himself.

He said: "The show is actually one enormous piece, and people who don't get that pick out bits and little points – not very smart, really. Especially for a landscape show, if people are queueing for it, it tells you something. We're very, very pleased with the response – and I'm not complaining about the press. Of course not. It doesn't matter what they say either." © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 30 2012

'I followed reaction to my show on Twitter'

At the RCA, where he was showing a film about his blockbuster show, David Hockney told me his views on tweeting, iPads and how things have changed since his student days

This afternoon I went down to the Royal College of Art in London, which is celebrating its 175th anniversary. David Hockney, who graduated 50 years ago, was there to show the students David Hockney: A Bigger Picture, a film made by Bruno Wollheim about his blockbuster Royal Academy show. (Incidentally, it only occurred to me when I was there that A Bigger Picture is a reference to A Bigger Splash – doh!)

In the main gallery, students were putting the finishing touches to their installations. There was a table, set as if for a banquet, with models of fantastical buildings behind the place settings and vegetation including a cauliflower "growing" down the middle. Another featured a selection of posters based on the "Keep calm and carry on" meme, with slogans including "Post-human has no privacy settings" and "Would you invest in Slough?".

Amid this bustling activity, I had a quick chat with the great man, who had just enjoyed a fag (you may have seen his latest fervently pro-smoking letter to the Guardian at the weekend) and was, as usual, immaculately turned-out. He had a lovely spotted scarf on and his gold molars glinted as he spoke. His passionate engagement with the modern world, he told me, has now extended to Twitter.

"I watched the reactions to my show on Twitter – I read the reviews on Twitter," he told me. Not that he tweets, alas: "I follow it, I'm an observer on it, but I don't want to tweet because it's too time-consuming, but it's a very fascinating new space.

"The press don't quite describe it right," he added. "It isn't just about a little comment of 140 characters, it's much more than that because it's noticeboards: people post something, it takes you to another person, it moves along. It's very, very new and fascinating. They'll pick it up here," he said – "they" meaning the students.

"I'm fascinated following it all," he added, "and you can follow it in Bridlington. It's isolated physically, which we like, but it's not isolated in any other way now, and it's a more interesting place to follow things, I think. Often stepping back you see more, don't you?"

You do – especially when the pictures are the size of Hockney's latest mammoth canvases. Unsurprisingly, the artist seemed thrilled with the reaction to his show, which has been a massive hit with both the public and his fellow artists, though some critics have been less enthusiastic. "I knew it would get a good reaction," he smiled, tapping my arm. "The show is one actually – one enormous piece, and people who don't get that pick out bits and little points. Not very smart, really.

"Especially for a landscape show, if people are queueing for it it tells you something. I daren't go in now, I'm too deaf to be able to deal with it" – he meant being mobbed by fans – "but we're very, very pleased with the response to it – and I'm not complaining about the press, either. Of course not. It doesn't matter what they say, either."

Hockney said that he didn't have any memories of the current RCA building (next to the Albert Hall) since the college moved the year he graduated. He studied at a building behind the V&A. "All the painters used to just come in and walk round – there's too much security now, so you don't get that. Security kills so much, doesn't it? They don't realise."

He was also displeased when the RCA gave up the studios he used to work in as student: "They had wonderful painting studios with big north light and they built the studio here with windows facing east which was mad. Drawing and painting was the centre of the old college and I don't know whether it is now, but I always think the phrase 'back to the drawing board' tells you something, doesn't it? Drawing – it's still there. Nothing's altered in that way."

I asked what advice he'd give to today's students: "Follow your instincts," he said. "Don't believe that painting's dead, it's photography that's dying or changing anyway, because of technology, just as painting changes because of technology.

"I'll also point out – I mean, I don't want to plug the iPad but they're cheap for what they can do. Some people might think it's a novelty but after a while you realise how you can use it – I mean, it's a camera and video camera all for £450, it's unbelievably cheap actually." But not quite as good value as six minutes with David Hockney. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 27 2012

Letters: The trouble with tobacco haters

Why doesn't Mr Chapman debate with a good and satisfied customer of the tobacco companies (Plain packs will make smoking history, 25 January)? Someone who has seen what will replace it as a smoothing, calming contemplative helper. Someone whose friends died of alcohol consumption, not tobacco. Someone who has smoked for nearly as long as he has lived. Someone who knows about the fanatical attitude of haters of tobacco. Someone who is not so naive about advertising and packaging.

Someone who has almost outlived a fanatical anti-smoking father. Someone who is fed up to the teeth with people who think they really know what health is. Someone who is not afraid of the cowardly, crooked politicians who stifle the debate about pleasure in the now. Someone who knows that time is elastic. Someone who knows how easy it is to lie with statistics. Someone who is not a professional agitator, who knows there is no such thing as a professional smoker but knows there are hundreds of dreary, professional, highly paid anti-smokers.

Someone who thinks laughter is good for you as it drains fear from the body. Someone who has something better to do than to try and control the quiet lives of others. Someone who knows we are all a bit different and is fed up with the growing regimentation of people. Someone who knows that smokers can live perfectly average-length lives but heavy drinkers rarely. Someone who is shocked by the growing conformity among people, and what that might mean for a reasonable free society. Someone who prefers the centre of Bohemia to Australian suburbia. Someone who knows we have to die.
David Hockney
Bridlington, East Yorkshire © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 23 2012

Why David Hockney is my style hero

With his brilliant use of colour, pattern and texture, the effortlessly cool artist shows us all how to wear clothes with personality

Wearing clothes just the right side of dishevelled cool is, I've decided, pretty much an artform. I should know because I've been trying to get it right for years – ever since I discovered David Hockney while doing my A-levels. How did he get that trench coat to look so perfectly lived in? What made him think that the trench needed a polka dot bow tie to finish off the look?

My Hockney love might have begun with the art – you don't forget the first time you see those super-sexy colours in his pool pictures, especially if you live in a small, grey market town in Norfolk. But it was the impact of Hockney himself, with that rebellious rash of scruffy, bleached, yellow hair, those hefty circular glasses and his unabashed clashing of colour in his outfits, that made him the coolest man I'd ever seen. A brilliantly intentional nerd, he's has been my all-time style hero ever since.

I love his candy-coloured cable jumpers, the American-style logo sweatshirts or the way he puts a cardigan with a knitted tie. I love how he wears them all with a slouchy air of bohemian fabulousness and boring old slacks. They are clothes with personality.

There are things in my wardrobe – a trench, lots of cardigans, lots of block colour, an old Burberry tank top – that definitely have a touch of Hockney about them. But it's not about copying the clothes. It's more about the mood, the ease with which he wore those clothes, those colours.

Jeremy Langmead, editor-in-chief of Mr Porter, which has featured vintage images of the artist as fashion reference points, says Hockney has always been totally at ease with what he was wearing. "He looked as if he had got out of bed and just found himself in those clothes: it didn't look too contrived, he didn't look in the least self-conscious, it just looked as if that was how David Hockney looked; that was how he was made. Remarkable."

"What is so cool about him," agrees Robert Johnston, associate editor of GQ, "is you know that he's not styled, whereas everything now has become so synthetic. You don't really believe any more that someone has gone to a shop and thought: Oh, that looks great. But you can imagine David Hockney in the Sue Ryder shop and finding a fantastic suit."

There is a picture of Hockney in front of a painting of his parents from 1975. He is wearing a rugby shirt – one of his signatures – with braces, ribbed socks and pair of battered old plimsoles. It is a perfect example of how he makes clothes that might seen ordinary look rock'n'roll.

In A Bigger Splash, a film about the artist from the early 1970s, there is a scene where Hockney is artfully slumped in a chair at his friend Ossie Clark's fashion show. It is every inch the artist-turned-rock-star pose. He is wearing a loud yellow shirt, paisley tie and cream suit jacket: pure Hockney-does-British-eccentric-with-a-side-of-pop. It is also a neat reminder of the circles he moved in during this time, which only "added to his aura of cool", says Johnston. "He was the British Warhol. His look is so instantly recognisable."

Now in his 70s, Hockney is less colourful than he used to be, though his clothes still have much personality. And he still influences fashion. A recent Romeo Beckham airport outfit – trench, hat, striped top – made me think mini-Hockney. Fred Macpherson of new band Spector wore Hockney's glasses in the NME. Topman's current sportsday trend (athletics tops with pleat-front slacks) and this season's Marks & Spencer's rugby shirt revival are all very Get the Hockney Look.

At the John Galliano spring 2012 show, Hockney was namechecked in the notes. There was talk of "the Bigger Splash with aquatic blues" and "preppy stripe tanks and waistcoats, bright greens and red are worn with Hockney's humour, bow ties, baseball hats and bold round glasses frames". It was hardly a subtle homage, given that these clothes will go on sale during the buzz of Hockney's new Royal Academy show, A Bigger Picture.

But Hockney had early sartorial form. In a picture of him as a teenager in the early 1950s, he is standing outside his parents' front door wearing a duffel coat, which reminds me of last season's Raf Simons, over a suit with a tie. He's sporting a thoroughly edgy bowl haircut. In one of his first self-portraits, from 1954, the artist imagines himself in a blue jacket, a red scarf, a check collar, a yellow tie. Hockney's skill as a colourist sings out of this early work.

For Burberry's spring/summer 2005 menswear collection, designer Christopher Bailey, who, like Hockney, hails from Yorkshire, presented an influential collection that nodded to both the artist's wardrobe – rugby tops, trench coats, cricket whites and striped ties – and his bold, clashing palette. It's impossible to talk about colour blocking in fashion without looking at the work of Hockney or this Burberry show. Hockney trailblazed the wearing of bold colour in the 60s. Bailey put it back on the runway in the 00s. When I see brilliant colour in fashion, I can't help thinking of Hockney. Raf Simons's acclaimed work for Jil Sander – specifically the spring/summer 2011 men's collection – springs to mind. A turquoise top with orange trousers reminds me of the way the sky in A Bigger Splash, 1967, contrasts with the yellow diving board at the painting's edge. The brightly coloured chairs – red, pink, yellow and blue – in the corner of Man Taking Shower in Beverly Hills, 1964, remind me of the collection's fantastic striped tops.

Hockney's portraits rarely disappoint when it comes to fabric, pattern or texture. From the ink lines of a shirt pocket with spectacles poking out in a 1968 sketch of Christopher Isherwood, to the Fair Isle pattern of a jumper worn by Ossie Clark in an almost smudgy crayon picture from 1970, clothes often feel part of the Hockney narrative or atmosphere. A Bigger Picture might not feature fabulous clothes but it still offers vivid colour combinations for wardrobe inspirations. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Have our cultural tastes gone conservative?

Does the popularity of traditional landscape paintings at the Royal Academy and a posh country-house TV series mean Britons are rejecting the progressive for the conservative?

When is culture conservative? This is an urgent question, since in many peoples' eyes Britain is slipping into a regressive mood in the arts and entertainment that – according to your point of view – is either to be loathed or welcomed as a symptom of deep societal change.

The conservative political commentator Peter Oborne welcomes it. In a provocative and trenchant article in the Daily Telegraph, he recently hailed the popularity of David Hockney's exhibition at the Royal Academy as a sign that Britons are rejecting progressive pretensions for conservative honesty, preferring the handmade to the conceptual, the rooted to the cosmopolitan – whatever Hockney's politics may be, suggests Oborne, his landscape paintings are "conservative".

Meanwhile, from the opposite point of view, Simon Schama wrote an equally trenchant and powerful attack on the country-house television series Downton Abbey, pouring eloquent scorn on its nostalgia for a world where people knew their bloody place.

I have never seen Downton Abbey. Being a progressive liberal, I watch Danish cop shows instead. But I can't help remembering the 1980s. When I was a teenager, some of us in north Wales were obsessed with two things: Joy Division, and Brideshead Revisited. Now, from the point of view of the kinds of cultural analyses that divide everything into "conservative" or "progressive", these are polar opposites. A group from the northwest, played on Peel, conjuring images of darkness and despair, profoundly urban and industrial, versus a television dramatisation, as celebrated in its day as Downton Abbey, of an openly rightwing novel by Evelyn Waugh that celebrated country houses and the upper class.

But it all made sense. Brideshead could not have gone further in its glorification of the posh – yet at the time, it was exceptional for mainstream British television in its portrayal of a gay relationship. Waugh's snobbery was scarcely the stuff of Margaret Thatcher's government, either. Thatcherism rejected the traditional aristocratic tone of the Conservative Party and looked back to the self-made ethos of the Victorian bourgeoisie – "Victorian values" – rather than landed estates and their age-old corruptions. So the singular vision of Waugh seemed strangely subversive. It was the TV expression not of conservatism, but of new romanticism.

When radicals in the early Soviet Union wanted to get rid of the ruins of ruling class culture that were preserved in tsarist palaces and museums, Lenin dismissed the idea, believing great art to be the heritage of the proletariat. And if you want to revel in the "conservative" pleasures of a palatial art museum stuffed with old masters, the best place on Earth to do so may well be the Hermitage in St Petersburg – a sanctum of high art preserved by the Soviet era.

I wrestle with this every day. There is, in Britain, a knee-jerk assumption that "conceptual" art is inherently radical and paintings are inherently "conservative". Actually I don't wrestle with it at all, because to me the idea that say, a painting by Gainsborough is either irrelevant, or inherently reactionary, is just ludicrous.

For that reason I don't think a shift in Britain from newish to oldish cultural attitudes means much, politically. It may be like comfort food, a response to tough times. Or it may be that a full experience of culture and imagination embraces new and old, experimental and orderly, and that all worthwhile art contains both conservative and radical possibilities. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

January 22 2012

David Hockney: A Bigger Picture

Royal Academy, London

David Hockney: A Bigger Picture is radiantly bright, spectacularly large in both scale and extent and ebullient to the point of jubilation. It is also garrulous, gaudy and repetitive. Yorkshire may have called Hockney home from the Hollywood hills to paint the landscapes of his boyhood with a zest nearly unparalleled among septuagenarian masters, but the results are bafflingly low on singularity, emotion or depth. They lend themselves dismayingly well to Royal Academy merchandise.

If only it wasn't so. Hockney is justly admired, not to say adored, for his pictorial ingenuity, his superlative draughtsmanship, his deft and witty inventions. Which other living artist has created a modern masterpiece to compare with A Bigger Splash, that stunning diagram of Californian heat and cool water, of liquid blossoming into frozen chaos? Which other living artist has entered the public imagination so completely?

His lifelong campaign for painting, his pushing of figuration as an evergreen genre, his willingness to enter into public argument, his constant self-renewal as an artist: Hockney is a most appealing figure. And here he is making another appeal, this time for the old tradition of landscape.

It is a huge risk, undertaken on a gargantuan scale. The latest works here were made in the last eight years in the East Yorkshire Wolds near Hockney's Bridlington home. Some are a mere metre or two square, others as big as billboards, and the largest is more than 15 metres across. For comparison, think of Monet's giant water lily panoramas and then imagine something more than twice the size. I've never seen a bigger painting.

So that is an advance on the past of a sort. And for such a restless innovator, so mindful of art history in everything he makes, this is surely a necessity. To take up a genre beloved of old and modern masters, Sunday painters and about half the entrants to the Royal Academy show every summer is to join a tradition. The question is what to make of it in personal and aesthetic terms, how to renew it.

This is, oddly, what Hockney ducks in his recent body of work. The compositions are exactly average: down the lane, up the hill, into the woods; rosebay willowherb dotting the hedgerows, bales like big cotton reels, gleaming puddles at sunset. Bigger, brighter, more or less graphic, naturalistic or chromatically loud, they have nothing special to declare about that point where the road disappears beneath an arch of boughs, for instance, other than its happy familiarity – over and over.

The show does open magnificently with The Four Seasons in the Royal Academy rotunda, a terrific, all-year-round series from saplings and early green grass to high summer's glowing harvests and winter trees against a dying opalescent sky. These recent paintings are voluptuous, appreciative, joyous, finding new notations for every change in this small corner of England.

The brushwork is lithe, running riffs on past art from Seurat's screens of pointillist dots to Matisse's buoyant stripes. The majestic scale accords with the ancient cycle of death and rebirth. The colour appears meaningful – gold against marigold, wintry blues, ochre and magenta producing optical flares – and has not yet become a sore point.

But A Bigger Picture wants to present Hockney as a lifelong landscape artist. In no time we are back to the 90s and The Road to York Through Sledmore, dipping up and down between blazing orange buildings and eye-popping foliage. Veridian and violet emerge straight from the tube, red brick is virtually scarlet.

In Saltaire, the picture turns childlike: here comes the chuffing train, here's the street snuggling over the bridge and those neat little back-to-back boxes. In the Wolds, the patchworks of fields are precisely that: striped squares of turquoise and lemon, Indian pink and gold; Matisse crossed with Walt Disney. Sometimes this comes out beautifully, as in Garrowby Hill, where the road is fairly bouncing down the hill, taking the curves very steeply, then narrowing to a distant ribbon. The colour is wild, but everything from the geometry to the perspective feels classically precise. The contrast is exuberantly comic.

But that's it for the humour. This is the first Hockney show I have seen that appeared completely in earnest. There is no display of pictorial wit, other than in the room of 60s landscapes that includes the wonderful Journey to Switzerland, with its figures haring along in the motorcar as the mountains behind them transform into flag-edged maps. Hockney is for the most part outdoors, painting straight from nature.

And he cannot stop, cannot keep still. There is not just Yorkshire to get down, but the seasons as well. A wall of sweet midsummers followed by a wall of yellow harvests followed by felled logs in autumn and bare glades in winter. A nice spot of painting in the sun (it never rains) and then home to tea; it sometimes feels as complacent as it looks.

Yet what is at stake is always making and medium, not the plein-air experience itself. Hockney doesn't have his nose deep in the hedgerows or his eye on the ephemeral dewdrop. He is not primarily interested in the ever-changing rhetoric of weather, light or nature. He is thinking about picture-making and so, perforce, is the viewer.

How they are made – this kind of mark, that variation on Van Gogh, those Fauve-bright colours or stylised cut-outs or vast, multi-panel grids – these are the constant focus, much more than the landscape itself. Every work compares with another and each has its alibi in the whole. It is one enormous study in comparative methods.

So it feels pointless, after a while, to look for an ominous pressure of heat or even a particular kind of tree. There is no underlying metaphor or building emotion, no sense of awe or melancholy or even much amazement. It is all things bright and beautiful all the time, with the possible exception of solitary stumps in winter clearings.

Though even here, among the skeletons of dead trees, the high-pitched purple and orange gives a kind of luminosity that just clears those blues away.

Hockney's colour is matched to his energy. People coming out of the Royal Academy speak fondly of all this dynamic heat in January. But against this chromatic freedom – lime green, acid pink – is a neutralising tidiness. It isn't just those regular blocks into which the big works are split for ease of construction; it isn't even the superlatively concise draughtsmanship that underpins every image. It is a kind of graphic fastidiousness – nothing too out of place or too wild – bordering on neatness. Can Yorkshire be like that these days?

The gallery full of hawthorn blossom is an exception. Look at these images in reproduction, on a tiny scale in the comfort of your own home, and they may well appear absurd, the white hawthorn bursting out in great maggoty slugs, the shadows making glove puppet bunnies. But in the gallery, and almost lifesize, they are marvellous transformations: the alien blossom rampant in its outburst, the shadows on the hot lane bristling like cacti in the desert. They are like late Philip Guston in their coining of strange new forms and sheer force of personality.

The further Hockney gets from the middle of the road the better, but alas his latest works are made right there on the spot with an iPad. With their felt pen squiggles and eerily empty transitions, so reminiscent of Photoshop, they appear inert and dehumanised. The surface of these prints has an easy-clean sheen and at more than a metre high they look like what they are: quick studies of dandelions and leafy lanes voluminously enlarged.

Perhaps the technology has bewitched him with its efficacy and speed; and who would begrudge Hockney this pleasure after a lifetime's experiments with Polaroid, fax, photocollage, video and all. But perhaps this goes to the central disappointment of A Bigger Picture. One witnesses Hockney's excitement, verve and energy, wall to wall, floor to ceiling and in room after room without ever feeling it oneself. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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