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Arts

Roar!, March 6th - March 25th, 2012

Is Bigger Better?

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Review: Happy New Nathan Olliverre After the success of his first play Rabbit, Brendan Cowell faces the difficult follow-up syndrome. His new play Happy New, directed by Robert Shaw, opens on New Year’s Eve and centres on two brothers who have experienced a terrible trauma during their childhood. What is portrayed throughout the opening scenes is the strong relationship between the two and that their childhood experience has made both brothers reticent to leave their small confined flat, repeatedly referred to as a ‘pen’.

Sam Spencer Call it the lead-up to the Olympics, but it seems everything now comes with the prefix ‘Great British’; from Victoria Beckham’s ‘Great British Fashion’ campaign announced this week to the ‘Great British Bake-Off’, the guiltiest of pleasures from last year’s TV, and now David Hockney’s new exhibition, a show that may as well be named ‘The Great British Art Show’. There’s a reason that Hockney’s ‘A Bigger Picture’ is sponsored by Visit Yorkshire; the paintings of Yorkshire that make up the majority of this show, painted over the last ten years or so, advertise the county far better than anything else I have ever seen. Seeing these paintings, there is no doubt that Hockney really is a master at work – no living painter captures light and colour more beau-

tifully. However, this stunning grasp of the power of colour doesn’t just extend to the paintings, with his films being among the stand-out pieces. These films, of Hockney driving very slowly down a country lane and filming his surroundings in stunning HD, are often breathtaking in their clarity and colours, with the section filmed in the snow eliciting an actual gasp from the audience. Although his experiments with HD are hugely successful, his other foray into new technology, his muchpublicised iPad drawings, is far less so. Quite simply, they can’t even attempt to compete with the majestic canvases. In my view, taking them off the iPad and onto canvas is almost totally unsuccessful, with the sort-of-paintings having an almost scratchy quality that only gets worse the bigger they are blown up. On the whole, though, the works are extremely attractive. Then again, is this enough? I’m not sure that it

is for me. No amount of style can compensate for a lack of substance. This show seems to be Hockney accepting his status as a Great British Painter, a National Treasure, at the cost of some of the tenderness and longing that makes his best work so effective. Also, the inclusion of some of his American paintings, such as his huge study of the Grand Canyon, has the unfortunate consequence of highlighting the comparatively unimpressive nature of the Yorkshire landscape, which is only partly allayed by his mastery. All in all then, this exhibition is a stunning display of skill and beauty, but avoid it if you prefer a more subversive or meaningful style of art.

Danny (Alfred Enoch – better known as Dean Thomas to the millions of Harry Potter fans) is fixated on being ‘new’, ‘clean’ and ‘revitalised’ and has a need to remove and rid himself of everything about him before starting a new year (like shedding one’s old feathers), actions which brother Lyle (Joel Samuels) imitates like a puppy to its master. They also both make reverential references to Danny’s girlfriend, hence the description of her god-like features, but once Pru (Josie Taylor) enters the pen she acts more like a hurricane, bursting in and letting out a tirade with regards to her finding a cheap earring in the back of her car. Taylor is a tour de force as Pru, whose role becomes more forceful and matriarchal with every line. It is with the second act that the true theme of the play is revealed, providing an attack on the parasitic nature of celeb-dom and the slightly Oedipal nature of the media with its subjects. However, the metaphor of human society having a similar hierarchy to other animals (in this case the chicken) is not entirely correct, although the analogy of bullying leading to dependencies (peck or be pecked) has more substance. Happy New is cativating in its prose and refreshing with its use of dialect, using an almost semi-monologue style, yet the message is not quite as resounding as its imagery. Perhaps the message should be that society should learn to stop coddling celebrities before they’ve even hatched.

David Hockney: A Bigger Picture is showing at the Royal Academy until 9 April, £9 Students.

Flaccid Penises Theodora Wakeley

This year I decided to spend part of my Valentine’s Day looking at paintings of the naked form uninhibited and unairbrushed (but certainly painbrushed). Yes my date was Lucian Freud and I had high expectations for the National Portrait Gallery’s posthumous celebration of his skill and dedication to his craft. And what dedication – the exhibition rooms are ordered chronologically meaning that the last painting you come to, Portrait of the Hound from 2011, is unfinished, the white space to the left signifying the awful abruptness of death but at the same time remaining a testament to the pleasure Freud, refusing to be distracted by such banalities as failing health, got out of painting. A potential, though entirely subjective, problem that the exhibition has to contend with is the fact that a lot of Freud’s work is tainted by the ‘not in my house’ attitude i.e. it’s certainly impressive but not exactly aesthetically pleasing. ‘Clinical’ is the word critics overuse to describe his studies of the flesh and there is nothing stereotypically sexy on show here: women have underarm hair, penises remain flaccid, fat people are blotchy and grotesque, while thin people appear grey and emanciated. Personally I find it difficult to believe how anyone could pay £17.2 million for the most famous of the ‘Big Sue’ paintings, Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, on pride of show here and appropriately huge in size – I would be surprised if Abromavich actually had it on display in his house (or should I say palace) although, if placed in the din-

Happy New is showing at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 23 March, £12 Students.

ing room, it could act as the world’s most expensive appetite suppressant. There is a lot more to Freud though than the grotesque supersize (sorry Sue if you read this but that’s how he painted you) and seeing his work close up makes you appreciate his attention to detail even in such mundane objects (particularly the towelling robe).

this exhibition will be. A case in point is Large Interior W9 (left) - after watching the documentary an amusingly odd painting is transformed into a study of juxtaposed humiliation as I now know the naked woman on the bed is one of Freud’s lovers and that he actually disliked his mother. I still don’t see why there’s a pestle and mortar featured though (anyone?).

What I found lacking however was a sense of context. Freud’s paintings are delightfully specific in their titles (Girl With A Kitten, Girl With Fair Hair) but do not give away the identity of their sitter. Due to the stressful overcrowding that now seems to plague blockbuster shows in London and what I presume was a lack of prominent display I also failed to pick up a guide – I spotted one person with one and immediately felt my interest would have significantly increased if I knew the story behind each piece.

Freud the painter does not seek to hide himself - his shadow or reflection often finds its way into his work therefore exhibitions should not try and keep his life hidden away (I’m sure the audio guide was informative but don’t get me started on having to pay for audio guides). His relationship with his subjects is arguably just as fascinating as the material endproduct so listen up National Portrait Gallery – hand those guides out!

Usually art speaks for itself but in Freud’s case I would argue that context is vital and the more you read up on him (or watch the brilliant BBC documentary Lucian Freud: Painted Life) the better your experience of

Lucian Freud: Portraits is showing at the National Portrait Gallery until 27 May 2012, £12 Students.

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