A Spectacular Splash: David Hockney Bigger & Closer (not smaller & further away) at Lightroom

Image © Lightroom / David Hockney at Lightroom by Justin Sutcliffe - MyArtBrokerImage © Lightroom / David Hockney at Lightroom © Justin Sutcliffe 2023
Celine Thompson

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In his latest - and perhaps ultimate - foray into technological innovation, David Hockney has collaborated with the newly-opened Lightroom for his show Bigger & Closer (not smaller & further away). In a cycle of six themed ‘chapters‘, the show leads us through Hockney's trailblazing career and offers a unique insight into his thoughts, his practice, and his view of the world itself. After viewing the show, I sat down with Andrew Witherspoon - Marketing Manager at Lightroom - to discuss the show, Hockney's innovation, and the future of the show space.

Located adjacent to Coal Drops Yard and Central Saint Martins in London's King's Cross, Lightroom is rather unassuming from its exterior. After descending into the crypt however, you are transported to another world and enveloped by boundless projected walls.

Unlike other burgeoning ‘immersive‘ art shows that have opened in the past year, Lightroom presents something wholly distinct. I had my apprehensions before I took my seat, but there is something about the sheer drama of Lightroom that makes it undeniably entertaining, inspiring, and simply moving. This show is a true collaboration between Hockney and 59 Studios - the award-winning design studio and production company behind Lightroom. Indeed, other immersive art shows might transport you into the artist's world, but Lightroom makes you feel as though you are in the studio with Hockney himself - witnessing a play-by-play of the defining moments in his life and career.

Image © Erin-Atlanta Argun / David Hockney Bigger & Closer (not smaller & further away) at Lightroom - MyArtBrokerImage © Erin-Atlanta Argun / David Hockney Bigger & Closer (not smaller & further away) at Lightroom

Witnessing David Hockney's Artistic Journey

From start to finish, Bigger & Closer (not smaller & further away) affords us a glimpse into Hockney's artistic journey - spanning over 60 years. As you sit down for the show, the words: “Remember that you cannot look at the sun or death for very long” are written across the screens in Hockney's handwriting. You might consider this show the ultimate Hockney biopic, or simply as Hockney's greatest expression of his love for art and technology.

The show unfurls with one of Hockney's iPad drawings - a medium he has developed since buying his first iPad in 2010. This is not merely a projection of the drawing, but a recorded time-lapse of Hockney creating it. The entire show is a unique insight into Hockney's process, influence, and the consolidation of the distinctive Hockney style we recognise him for today.

After this, the show is divided into several chapters or - perhaps a better term for this theatrical show - acts. You join Hockney on one of his famed ”Wagner Drives”, with Wagner's Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla blaring from the incredible audio system by HOLOPLOT. You sit in the audience for several operas, with Hockney's set designs playfully animated. You take a dip into Hockney's iconic swimming pools. You flip through the artist's sketchbooks. This show is not just photos of paintings projected on a grand scale, it is a spectacular show of new technology that allows you to view Hockney's work as it was intended to be viewed.

Image © Erin-Atlanta Argun / David Hockney Bigger & Closer (not smaller & further away) at Lightroom - MyArtBrokerImage © Erin-Atlanta Argun / David Hockney Bigger & Closer (not smaller & further away) at Lightroom

Emulating David Hockney's Eye

One of the most compelling features of this show is its ability to plant you in the mind of the artist. Throughout the one-hour loop, there are several moments where you can see Hockney's process unfurl across the space. Towards the beginning of the show, Hockney gives us a lesson in perspective, with his early sketchbooks showing the artist's unique approach.

The pièce de résistance of the show is, arguably, the chapter which focuses on Hockney's set designs for the opera. Hockney worked on several operas throughout the 70s and 80s, creating surreal set designs and other-wordly spaces for the performances to unfold. Thanks to the input of 59 Productions, Lightroom have given Hockney's set designs a new lease of life: recreating the theatricality as they would have been experienced on the stage. With elements drawn by Hockney and animated by 59, you feel as though you are watching Hockney's imagination run wild.

In conversation with Andrew Witherspoon from Lightroom:

Image © Lightroom / David Hockney by Justin Sutcliffe - MyArtBrokerImage © Lightroom / David Hockney © Justin Sutcliffe 2023

Q: Erin-Atlanta Argun: How did you get Hockney on board with Lightroom?

Andrew Witherspoon: Lightroom's first show was always going to be David Hockney. He was the only person we asked, as he has always been an early adopter of technology, and he said yes straight away. Mark Grimmer - the director of the show - wrote to Hockney and asked if he'd be interested in the collaboration. Hockney wrote back and said he'd be keen. They met in Normandy (where Hockney lives) and began work on the show.

The letter Hockney sent to Grimmer is in the show programme, where Hockney replied: “I would certainly like to talk to you.” And so, the collaboration began to unfurl over three years of meticulous design and planning.

Image © Lightroom / David Hockney working with his architectural model box - MyArtBrokerImage © Lightroom 2023 / David Hockney working with his architectural model box

Q: EA: How involved was Hockney in the production?

AW: Hockney was super involved. The production of the show took over three years, and Hockney was on board throughout. Using 59 Productions' “architectural model boxes” [pictured above], one box was in their office in London and the other was in Hockney's studio in Normandy. Five projectors were set up in each of these boxes to mimic Lightroom, allowing Hockney and 59 to work together at the same time. Three weeks after Christmas, Hockney was in Lightroom every day working on the show. He couldn't have been more involved.

Q: EA: Lightroom certainly has something different to offer from the other so-called ‘immersive‘ experiences. Particularly because Hockney is a living artist you collaborated directly with - do you see this show as a work of art in and of itself?

AW: The fact that we've worked with a living artist is definitely the biggest difference. Because the breadth of Hockney's work is so huge, we were able to match that with the scale of the show-space and the way that it's projected. You really feel like you're getting inside his head, and the voiceover does so much for that as well.

Because the voiceover is constructed of over 40 years of recordings, you get a distilled idea of Hockney's personality. There's such a deep truth to everything he says, and he's always been so convicted in what he says that you get a real sense of him.

Image © Erin-Atlanta Argun / David Hockney Bigger & Closer (not smaller & further away) at Lightroom - MyArtBrokerImage © Erin-Atlanta Argun / David Hockney Bigger & Closer (not smaller & further away) at Lightroom

Q: EA: How did Lightroom itself start? What's the bigger picture?

AW: Lightroom is a joint venture between London Theatre Company and 59 Productions. Lightroom is a very versatile space, and because of the current show you might not fully grasp quite how versatile it is. The plan for Lightroom is not just to be a visual arts venue, it can do anything. There's so much potential.

We try to avoid the word “immersive”, but it really is immersive in a holistic way. You're not just inside a box full of moving pictures, you've also got the voiceover, the music, etc. That's how you get those moments that are so moving. I think that's what is lacking elsewhere: the emotional element.

Q: EA: Who animated the show?

AW: 59 Productions were the animators behind the show, using their “projection mapping” technology to fill the space. In a sense, almost all of the artwork in the show is new. It all had to be worked on to make it work this big. 59 worked with Hockney to scale up his works, with elements drawn by Hockney and animated by 59. This is a real collaboration.

My art has always been immersive, so I kind of grasped what it involved. You’ve got four walls and a floor – it’s a completely new medium really.
David Hockney

Lightroom's debut is an undeniable triumph. For artists like Hockney, this immersive and dramatic space offers a new and exciting medium to be experimented with. This is not “just photos of goddamn paintings”. Hockney's work has always bridged the gap between technology and art, and his collaboration with Lightroom is the paramount manifestation of that. This show is a must for any Hockney fan, and anybody interested in the way we view and experience art itself in the modern age.

David Hockney: Bigger & Closer (not smaller & further away) runs until 4th June at Lightroom, London. Get tickets here.

Interested in how Hockney's ongoing captivation of the public eye has affected his market in 2023? Download our latest out our latest Modern British Prints Market Report here.

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