Returned from the Maldives on Friday 10th Feb, a day late as our little sea-plane was felled by a storm, landed unexpected on an island inhabited by Club Med, and we missed our Sri Lankan flight back. It took ten hours to get there and 24 hours to get home.
After I’d put my case down on the bed-room floor and fed the cat I went to bed with cat, and slept for about three days. I got up to go to Mass, how’s that for virtue, and to discover that I was getting a horrible ear-infection. On Sunday night I took some Tramadol, powerful painkillers left over from my last time in hospital and went back to sleep again.
Yesterday, Wednesday 15th, got up long enough to visit the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy. I was very drowsy but had no choice as I’d already got the tickets and my friend Gillian only had one day free before she had to fly back to her home in Monaco.
I was stunned by the queues outside. Every elderly lady radio 4 listener and her mother was there, plus a few game old buffers with sticks.
There were three lines of well dressed folk snaking back past the statue of Sir Joshua to the main road. I ignored them as I had been told on the phone to collect my tickets from the Friends' Desk. I waited for Gillian in the redoubtable “Friend's Room” where there are not enough seats and no magazines these days, and the coffee costs nearly £5 a cup.
She arrived on time but went off to the loo and didn’t come back for twenty minutes because of the crowd there. At 12 noon, the appointed hour, we went to collect the tickets and discovered that we had to join one of the queues outside before they would hand them over. Only people with a special bar-code got them right away with out any torture. Instead of lounging about we should have been out there – queuing for dear life.
I had already given my coat to the cloak-room, but when I went to retrieve it I saw there was another great long shuffling line, like something from Soviet Russia so I stood outside without it. As it started to rain, everyone was grumbling at the absurdity of standing there when we had tickets, but remained amiable about it, in that great British way.
We got in to see the paintings at about 12.30. As I was pushed and jostled into the first great gallery, I heard a young girl say that she’d been to an exhibition at Buckingham Palace Gallery recently and cried because of the crowds. I wonder if she managed to hold up in this one. I also heard a posh elderly lady say she wasn’t sure what part of the country the paintings described, but she thought it might be Yorkshire. She made it sound as exotic and unlikely as a remote region of Burma.
The Leonardo was like a five mile hike before breakfast and this was even more strenuous, but was worth it. There was so much variety in the work despite the common theme, and as we made our way through the large rooms, it became like a long walk in the woods, albeit very crowded ones.
I liked the oil paintings with their wild, rich purples and reds and the creamy yellows. As a painter Hockney is fearless, a very masculine characteristic. He is far more genuinely bold than most people, certainly most amateur painters. I heard some of those alpha-male Sunday painters grumbling about his colours as they pottered around. And because Hockney is accessible, there was a certain jealousy in their voices.
Despite his wild bursts of Mediterranean colour he somehow evoked England in all its sumptuous seasons, with May Blossom foaming like beer in hot summer scenes, and cow parsley shivering like an aerosol mist in others.
I wasn't so interested in the flat iPod paintings or the final giant painting. All that astonishing effort, and there are people who really think it is unseemly for a man of his age to still be painting so avidly, did not lead up to one great masterpiece. Most of the smaller works were just very, very good. That should be enough, at least compared to what we normally see from contemporary celebrity artists.
Not many people were looking at his watercolours which were quite different and much less ferocious than the oils. They were highly competent without being at all showy. I admired his charcoal drawings too. Almost every line was individual and distinctive, the mark of a true artist.
We were too fatigued to fight our way into the film about the paintings in progress, and the paintings for the "Sermon on the Mount" were disappointing, resembling Picasso's tiresome, pointless homage to other artists.
After two hours we got out and struggled into the restaurant. I knew this was a risk but hadn’t the energy to get any further. They sat us in an alcove on hard round stools, and we waited for an hour between soup and main course. The kitchen was clearly overwhelmed by the numbers. Same as the loos. I was told about a secret disabled loo and went off to find it, but able bodied men were using it, while people in wheel-chairs were waiting. It had an atmosphere of that ship going down, with the strongest pushing others out of the way.
When we came out again the crowds were still coming. It reminded me of a royal lying in state. Perhaps Hockney is the last great representational artist we have, the end of a long line and we were all paying tribute to an art form which is dead. Some historian of the future will have to work it out.