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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Flutsch

David Hockney: The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020


Exhibition Catalogue Review: Royal Academy Publications, £25 to buy here.

I made a promise; I won’t do anything fun in London until 3 weeks after my second vaccine. This promise meant that I missed the press day for David Hockney’s exhibition at the Royal Academy, which opens on 23 May.

I ordered the exhibition catalogue as compensation and indeed, the exhibition is now sold out, so for many, this will be the only way to experience the art.* For those that remember Hockney’s A Bigger Picture exhibition in 2012 – the accompanying catalogue was a work of art in itself; second-hand copies still command huge sums. And so it is with the catalogue for this current exhibition. It is a little jewel of loveliness, joy, and sheer fun – roughly the same size as my iPad – bringing happiness in a very wet and windy British spring.

Hockney’s sojourn to Normandy in 2020 had long been planned. When the pandemic struck, Hockney and his team were able to lockdown on the 4-acre property, which includes his studio, house, barn, fruit trees, willows, poplars, a pond, a tree house, and a river at the bottom of the garden.

Hockney didn’t need to leave his property to closely observe all the permutations in the arrival of Spring in Normandy. Working in lockdown, sans visitors and restaurant outings, resulted in an outpouring of 116 beautiful, detailed, colourful, and joyous pictures that meticulously document the changes in nature on Hockney’s property from late winter to early summer 2020.

There is something rather special and a little bit subversive about this catalogue. Quite often, the first half of an exhibition catalogue is filled with dry, esoteric insights, which most people flip through quickly to get to the good stuff – the pictures of the art.

The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020 is nothing like that!

It begins with a short forward, a truly lovely (and very short) essay by William Boyd, one of Hockney’s friends, and finishes with a gentle, conversational, and very generous interview between Hockney and another friend, Edith Devaney. These are a genuine pleasure to read.

Boyd’s essay is rather gorgeous - and has everything you want in an introduction – humour, humility, insight, inside stories and some jealousy-inspiring titbits, “…here I got really lucky…[Hockney] began to include me in the small circle of people to whom he sent his iPhone drawings.”

Similarly, Edith Devaney’s interview with Hockney is such a gentle, easy read that it almost disguises the fact that it is filled with incredible, technical insights into Hockney’s artistic process and methods. Hockney has always been generous in sharing information about his process and this interview is stuffed to the brim with details about his use of the iPad, the painting app, Brushes, and the processes and techniques he’s developed since first getting an iPad in April 2010.

Yet, if you want to skip these gems you can – by far the vast majority of the book is filled with the vibrant and joyous pictures Hockney painted at the time and that are in the exhibition. What makes this catalogue special is that most of the pictures are printed on a full page, which are roughly the same size as the iPad that Hockney used to paint them. This means that in the catalogue, unlike the exhibition, you’re seeing the pictures in the size in which they were created.

Knowing this creates a kind of intimacy that might not be available at the exhibition – yes, you can see the paintings at the exhibition in their huge, printed glory but at home, quietly, with a cup tea, you can gaze at the page, knowing that this is size of canvas Hockney used. It is a rare exhibition catalogue that contributes something extra and lovely to the very experience of seeing the art.

Three pictures in the catalogue can be viewed through Hockney’s Augmented Reality App**, which you can download onto your device for free.***

Two of the picture are just sheer fun. A beautiful scene of early spring rain comes to life, or you can watch Hockney's painting of the sun rising.

The third picture is more than just fun - you can watch the tree scene being painted by brush stroke. There is an openhearted generosity in an artist sharing this level of detail and artists of all levels will marvel and benefit from watching this. On a technical note – the page needs to be completely flat before the app works properly otherwise you will get glitchy flashes. The augmented reality is fun, but you don’t need to use it to love this book.

This book is filled with delight. There is sheer joy to seeing spring gradually encroach on the exact same scenes – the same tree, the same shrub, the same patch of sky – this is iPad use at its cutting edge.

All ages will love this book – from babes in arms to the ancient; there is a universal appeal in glorious, colourful, and closely observed pictures of Spring arriving.

I hope that the Royal Academy will release a wipeable version – so that toddlers with sticky fingers will be able to gaze at the loveliness and structure their brains to the shape of that beauty.


*While the exhibition has sold out, there may be future ticket releases. Sign up to the Royal Academy’s mailing list here to be kept informed.

**Search “Hockney AR” in the App Store.

***Rain - No. 262, 28 April 2020, Number 84 in the catalogue, sun rising - No. 245, 26 April 2020, Number 79 in the catalogue, and tree scene - No. 308, 14 February 2020, No. 9 in the catalogue.


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