From landscape to grandscape;The Big Picture

25th June 1999 at 01:00
(Photograph) - The Grand Canyon is as wide as the English Channel, as long as the road from London to Newcastle, and as deep as a dozen skyscrapers. It's the biggest hole on the surface of the earth. So how do you fit it on the wall? Well, it's all done with mirrors.

David Hockney's "A Closer Grand Canyon", on show at the Royal Academy summer exhibition until August 15, is landscape painting on a massive scale. Seven metres long and three metres high, it hangs opposite another outsize oeuvre, "A Bigger Grand Canyon". Mirrors in the four corners of the gallery reflect the vastness of the paintings and their subject, forming the illusion of wide open spaces, expanses of sky and fractured land that stretch on for ever.

Hockney has been visiting the Grand Canyon for years. "I am drawn to it," he says. "It has a fascination you only get when you are at the edge. You look in every direction and there is no perspective or focal point." For these paintings he spent seven days there, from dawn till dusk, sketching and drawing.

He painted 96 small panels and put them together to create this grid-like effect. Maybe he was trying to evoke his famous photo collages of the 1980s, or playing with the scale to make the whole seem greater than the sum of its parts. Or maybe it was the only way they could get it through the gallery door.

Hockney's canyon paintings are highly colourful, slightly distorted and full of quirky details. Critics have called them "brilliant" and "spectacular", and rubbished them as "failures". But like the man himself, with his mop of white hair, Mr Magoo glasses and crumpled suit, they are instantly recognisable as David Hockney, a Yorkshireman who moved to California. He might not be our greatest living artist, but he is almost certainly our most loved.


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