A magic Saturday to see Hockney at the Royal Academy. But always a bitter sweet moment when I get to London: thrilled to be home again, sad that it won’t be for long. Get on the tube, expecting it to be humming with Kindles. Not a one to be seen, but people are reading books and magazines. That’s so good to see. Reached the RA at 10.30 to be told the queue is already two hours long, advised to return later in the afternoon. So off for a wander around the West End, which has to include checking out the booze store at Wardour and Old Compton Streets. The game is to see how many of the hard liquor bottles in the window I’ve ever tasted. As usual, it’s way less than half. That never happens at Sainsbury’s. Across the road the French patisserie has the usual display of drool-making tartes, better than Maison Valerie. But it’s the culture I really miss, honest.
Pop into the National Gallery for a quick scan of an Impressionist display. Quite lovely, a Van Gough new to me and for some reason I’m intrigued by Seurat’s technique. It’s wonderful to get so close to the art. By now definitely peckish so wander off and find a Malayan restaurant at the bottom end of Haymarket. Good news is the service and tea made with condensed milk. Not so good, that the Nasi Goreng is too soggy. But they also have Linghams Chilli sauce on the table, so bearable. Then a meander back towards Piccadilly and past the Japanese Centre, which is where I should have gone for lunch. Fresh sushi – you can watch the chef’s preparing it – and every other kind of Japanese food, all at ridiculously low prices. That’s for me, next time.
Well, I’ve been in the RA queue for an hour when a family comes up with a spare ticket, pre-ordered, because someone couldn’t be there. Cushti. And the show was brilliant. The first artwork was a vast canvas of the Grand Canyon, incredible rusts and browns, ochres and reds and it made me smile from sheer pleasure. In fact, as my nephew said, the entire show was completely joyous, one man’s exuberant love affair with landscape and his own art. Interestingly, Hockney’s technique in the more recent, Yorkshire, series is a brutal, almost abstract pointilism, the ultimate daub (how lucky I’d seen those Seurat paintings earlier). But then you stand back and the picture resolves into a scene of wonderful, delicate observation. And the colours! Intense but never absurd, no matter how extreme. It was the kind of show where complete strangers talk to each other – I was one – just to share the wonder and the joy. There were quite a few kids there, toddlers, and they were also spellbound. . . as were all the visitors from Yorkshire, self-confessed art ignorants, who’d come down to see how their boy had done. While overall there was a near spiritual quality to the work, not in the Christian/Buddhist/whatever sense, but an underlying transcendence. That said, no surprise to have seen Pan deep in the shadows. In these landscapes nature comes alive. Hockney has to be one of the world’s greatest living artists.
Was going to go and see the Damien Hirst, but it would have only made me grumpy. Next to Hockney, Hirst is not an artist but a brand. His work belongs more to the world of advertising art, to a startling window display at Harvey Nicks’. Well, of course it does. Hirst was always a Charles Saatchi creation, the work testament to the commercialisation of Western society. Conceptual art only succeds when the concept itself is interesting, even profound. With Hirst’s work the execution disguises the banality of the thought behind it, just as a superbly produced advertising campaign can sell a product no better or worse than thousands of others. On the other hand, if you view Charles Saatchi as the real artist, and Hurst as a technique, then the ‘work’ become far more interesting. But still not something I want to pay good money to go and see. There again it is about commercialisation, so a free show would be missing the point. Or would it be ironic? Anyway, who gives a fuck?
And so back by train to deepest Dorset, part of the way sitting opposite an autistic teenager and his patient, very loving father, another life-affirming experience.
It was a good day.