Bradford boy makes good

2nd February 1996 at 00:00
Elaine Williams visits Hockney at Salt's Mill

During his recent Royal Academy exhibition, David Hockney lamented the lack of drawing, looking and observation in modern art-school practice. A devotee of Picasso, whom he regards as a consummate practitioner of drawing, Hockney has become a major innovator in the language of painting who yet allows us to see art as part of a tradition. He uses paint, on canvas, in frames, all of which which may seem conservative compared to the chopped-up cows of Damien Hirst, but given that Leonardo was dissecting cows 500 years ago what's new in the world of art?

The Royal Academy Show moves on, but Hockney remains, on permanent display in his home city of Bradford. On March 3 a third Hockney gallery opens in Salts Mill, adding to the superb collections already on show, the largest to be seen anywhere in the world.

Jonathan Silver, the owner of Salts Mill, followed Hockney up through Bradford Grammar and bought his first Hockney painting at the age of 13. He has remained an avid collector who wishes to share his extraordinary private collection with the public. His great achievement is to create a gallery space which is compelling and which presents Hockney's work in a highly accessible way.

In this context Hockney can offer a gateway to Picasso and Matisse, the great masters of the modern movement and must provide an excellent opportunity for teachers wishing to introduce pupils to a vision of art from which they might previously have felt excluded.

During term-time 1,500 students and schoolchildren pass through these galleries every week, many encouraged to pursue the drawing of which Hockney so strongly approves. The vast, airy space of the mill allows young artists to draw without feeling self-conscious or constrained.

The RA uses the mill as a venue for its life-drawing outreach programme for schools. The genius of Silver has been to develop a creative environment in this cavernous architectural monument to the Industrial Revolution. The bottom gallery doubles as a shop selling an impressive range of art and children's books, postcards and posters while displaying a comprehensive collection of Hockney's prints and drawings.

There is early work here which presents fascinating archive material. A painting which Hockney painted for Jonathan Silver "to cheer me up" during a recent convalescence in hospital, "Sunflowers for Hope and Joy", is already available as a print in postcard and card form. Silver said: "I wanted to share this. We don't sell paintings here and we don't charge for entry but there are very few people who cannot afford a postcard".

The second gallery is reached through Salt's Diner, with its menu and crockery graphics by Hockney, capturing his exotic appeal - California with a Bradford accent. In this gallery there are some fine examples of Hockney's recent paintings buzzing with colour and energy, informed with a profound knowledge of picture making. Beneath this gallery over 400 people are employed in a factory making satellite receivers, the factory decorated with Matisse prints by Silver. He says: "There is a complete inter-marriage of art and industry here." The one certainly pays for the other and enables Silver to pursue his passion. The third gallery on a floor above, designed by Hockney himself as one of Salt's Mill's regular visitors, promises to be as exciting as the existing two.

Pre-booking for group visits to Salt's Mill is advised. Tel: 01274 531163

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