David Hockney, The Bigger Picture, at the RA, and a quick steak at Rowleys on Jermyn Street
Years ago, in a different career entirely I was an art-dealer. Secondary dealing – meaning my partner and I bought and sold works, sitting in auction houses, visiting artists and other dealers. We sold quite a few Hockney prints, mainly his early sixties etchings. I’ve always adored Hockney’s work, so had been looking forward – like a child at Christmas – to the show at the RoyalAcademy. I don’t want to bore you with the minutiae details, but I had finally managed to get two tickets for the Hockney show – The Bigger Picture at theRoyalAcademy. It’s been all over the papers, you must have seen the reviews. Anyway, a couple of weeks before our day out Annie got the phone call that meant she had to work. Damn. The show’s a sell out so no chance of changing dates. I decided to take our eleven year old, Honor. Her head-teacher thought it was an excellent idea. Honor would have to miss French, so she was keen.
I’ve seen two previous shows at the academy – Pop Art and Saatchi’s early collection called Sensation. Both seemed busy, but for Hockney, The Academy was heaving. Not just busy, as in “oooh, excuse me”, or that slight claustrophobic crowd induced panic you may experience around too many people. It wasn’t even close to being as busy as your favoured supermarket on Christmas eve. Just imagine you’re trying to get somewhere near the stage at a really big rock concert. That busy.
But what of the show. It is poorly curated. There is too much average before the few paintings of genius. Hockney’s clear intention was to show the acclaimed newYorkshirelandscapes, and they’re there. And they’re brilliant. But, there was too much other stuff. I’d read all the reviews I could find, and have seen three programmes about his new paintings on the telly – I was not expecting so much of the show to be old previously seen, well known work.
Hockney also takes a while to get into his stride with his new foundYorkshiresubject. Many of the early paintings do not sparkle with the same affection, or shine with the brilliance and confidence of his later paintings on show. His very newest paintings have a lightness of touch that sees the earlier work fall flat. The four paintings of trees (the four seasons, naturally) that line the initial octagonal room add nothing to this show.
The video installation room was packed. I’d seen some clips, the best bits of it on TV, a few days before. There was a huge crowd in the room. Transfixed, happy to sit and stare at the slowly moving picture – whereas moments before they’d have been grazing on the paintings, doing the slow gallery shuffle. But then, that’s the power of the telly. The film worked better on the small screen, where in it’s brevity it was beautiful. In a crowded dimly lit quiet room with the images blown up to the size of a cinema screen it was pompous and plodding. And, why were huge benches provided to sit on and watch the TV show, yet you are expected to amble around in front of the paintings.
It was only after we’d left that I was struck by the fact that so many of Hockney’s landscape paintings feature roads. The majority of the big new paintings have a compelling single point perspective road, or track, or at the very least a path, meandering off into the distance. Not one of the big newspaper reviews or TV shows mentions this common link in all of Hockney’s big landscape works. Is Hockney a keen driver – is it metaphor for his escape toL.A.and his return toYorkshire- does he enjoy walking in the countryside – does he just arrive in his car and start to paint? I’d have liked to hear his answer to those questions.
Honor was understandably not impressed with an hour of being swept along looking at the backs of people’s heads, or maybe all she saw was their tweedy-backs. So, she decided she wanted some lunch. We crossed Picadilly, and ambled upJermyn Streetto Rowleys. Annie took me there once, years ago – I remember really liking it. It’s a nice little steak and chips restaurant near the offices of a company that she used to work for. It’s all old tiles, big mirrors and good tablecloths. Annie was often taken there on her employer’s expense account and watched with horror as the management consultants got competitive, trying to out spend each other on the wine list. And eat the biggest steaks. But, her old-employer’s sillyness should not put you off the fact that the restaurant does serve a pretty good steak and chips.
We had two rump steaks with the house butter and endless skinny fries. The butter is billed as their “unique herb butter” – I’m pretty sure it has Roquefort in it. They serve it on top of the steak. I liked the butter, Honor did not. Nice skinny fries. Honor left most of her steak, annoying at any price – infuriating at these prices. What’s the matter, darling? “It’s not as good as the ones you get from the butcher.” I thought about it. And she was right. The lovely surroundings, with its in-your-face obvious traditionalism doesn’t makeup for the simple shortcoming of the beef. It was short on flavour, lacked depth, and hadn’t been hung well enough.
“Had I enjoyed the show?” Honor suddenly asked me.
“Hmmm, dunnow. It was so crowded I couldn’t enjoy it,” I said.
“Durr. He’s famous,” she said. “What did you expect.”
Out two steaks and chips, with one salad, and soft drinks was just over fifty quid. Rowleys is at 113 Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6HJ. Telephone 0207 930 2707