David Hockney 82 Portraits and 1 Still-life: The Royal Academy

Painting over 90 canvases is a large project to undertake, let alone complete in just over two years… but that is exactly what David Hockney achieved in recent years, and 82 of these portraits and 1 still-life are currently on display in The Sackler Wing of the Royal Academy. Each portrait shares the same dimensions, is painted in acrylic on canvas, has the same background colours of a turquoise and light blue, and show the subject seated in the same chair – making it obvious why Hockney views them collectively as a single body of work. The portraits are densely hung side by side in three galleries at eye level, and the uniformity of both the paintings and their installation is very intense yet left me cold. Lamentably as I moved from one portrait to the next I started finding the exhibition repetitive, failed to notice subtle differences in posture, facial expression and attire, and was relieved when one of the sitters failed to show up to their appointment forcing Hockney to deviate and paint a still-life of some fruit! Having garnered some more information from the visitor handout I decided to have a second look and certain elements of the project became more interesting; none of the portraits were commissioned so each one is of a family member, friend, fellow artist or associate, and each portrait was executed within three days (the longest amount of time Hockney felt he could ask of anyone). I also enjoyed Hockney’s lampooning of selfies and his refusal to paint any “celebrities”, reaffirming the importance of the painted portrait over a photograph taken on a mobile phone. The project is unarguably an impressive feat and armed with more context it was certainly more engaging on a second loop around the galleries, however on an aesthetic level the exhibition still failed to excite or inspire.

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Sony World Photography Awards 2016: Somerset House

If you read this blog regularly you’ll have no doubt picked up on the fact that I’m no fan of the modern day phenomenon that is the selfie – so the lead marketing image for this years’ ‘Sony World Photography Awards’ of an astronaut taking a selfie in space (Julian Maeve’s ‘Greetings from Mars’) was slightly worrisome! That aside, I couldn’t miss seeing what 2016 had to offer… so headed to Somerset House this bank holiday to catch its two week exhibition run. Each year I seem to forget how big the exhibition is, and with a staggering 230,103 entries from 108 countries, the works chosen to go on display this year only represent a small percentage of what was submitted. The West Wing galleries are dedicated to professional photographers work, and the East Wing houses the youth and student entries, as well as the open competition. The talent is palpable throughout, from Filip Wolak capturing unusual angles in his aerial shot ‘Snowy Central Park at 10,000 feet’, to wonderful everyday scenes including ‘The Lantern Store’ by Malaysian photographer Swee Choo Oh, and harrowing images of victims of acid attacks by Asghar Khamseh largely committed against women and children as a result of divorce requests, rejected marriage proposals and revenge. The exhibition also included humour in A. Talomby’s series of portraits of men with touch facial features juxtaposed with feminine geisha hairdos which raises questions around stereotypes, gender and race, as well as moments of discomfort in Photographer Hal’s images of vacuum-packed couples in ‘Fresh Love Returns’. With so many photographs on display I appreciate the difficulty in identifying one winner, however the amount of winning shots is a little confusing (with 14 different prize categories spanning conceptual, portrait, staged, still-life, campaign and environmental amongst others for the professional photographers alone) and would be my only criticism.

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