Simon Bartle, Visual Arts Correspondent

Alan Davie And David Hockney: Early Works At The Hepworth, Wakefield

The Early Works At The Hepworth exhibition is all about creative convergences in more ways than one. It explores the early works of Alan Davie (1920 – 2014) and David Hockney (b. 1937) and in particular the years from 1948 to 1965.

Endless curatorial energy, and dedication has brought together around 45 paintings, collages, supporting publications and exhibits, which provide a superb showcase for the work of these foremost artists in the world of post-war British painting. This exhibition is comprehensive, well conceived, beautifully curated, and should not be missed. Put quite simply, this is The Hepworth at its very best.

What convergence does the exhibition celebrate? The answer is the meeting of two great talents through the medium of Alan Davie's first retrospective exhibition in 1958, at the former Wakefield Art Gallery. At that exhibition a young David Hockney saw both Alan's work, and heard him talking about his art. It was a life changing moment for Hockney. Shortly after the exhibition, Hockney took up a place at the Royal College of Art in London, where he moved away from figurative painting. Thereafter, he followed in the footsteps of Davie as he too adopted a colourful abstract style shaped by passion, poetry and symbolism. Hockney moved between figurative and abstract painting, but the purely figurative mould had been broken, and a new imaginative, innovative artist had been unleashed.

Davie's large scale painting Creation of Man (1957), featured in the 1958 exhibition, and is on show again in this exhibition, and it has not lost any of its visual impact. At 3 metres in length you will not miss it. It was the centrepiece in 1958, and it is again on this occasion. Its undeniable quality has certainly stood the test of time.

For Davie the Wakefield exhibition was a crucial turning point, from which he never looked back. His exhibition toured nationally, including the Whitechapel Galley in London, which has always built and centred its reputation on showcasing modern masters, and new contemporary artists.

Thereafter, did Davie and Hockney follow parallel paths? That is for you to decide, and this exhibition provides you with the opportunity to compare, and contrast their early works. Certainly their works are distinctive, and yes they both appeared in films, and on television. The similarities do not end there. Both artists featured regularly in the Sunday Supplement Magazines, and were no strangers to publicity. So in those respects their paths were similar, but not unique, as other contemporary artists received the same media treatment. This was the era of the Pop Artist, and whether or not, you identified with that 'brand' you were unwittingly part of that 'circus'.

So the viewer needs to cast their net wider in the quest for convergent paths. The answer is not far away. There are thematic crossovers of love, poetry and passion. The exhibition explores all these influences, and for good measure introduces us to their central theme of 'hinted symbolism'. Davie and Hockney successfully experimented, and tested new painting surfaces. They were both undoubtedly innovators, and in essence explorers in a new world of art with diminishing boundaries. They tested those limits, and pushed back the barriers.

The highlights of the exhibition are many. Once you get past the self portraits, which are sublime, you inevitable arrive at Davie's Cross for the White Birds, (1965), and Hockney's Arizona, (1964). These are timeless, and unforgettable works. Both artists in these works are guided by American abstract art which had come out of 'The New York School' and beyond. They explore and interrogate those American influences, but their paintings are not the end of that voyage of discovery, they represent the very beginning. You will return to those images time after time, they will preoccupy your thoughts. Just as Davie and Hockney did, you will start on your own journey to re-evaluate, and re-imagine abstraction. You too will discover that the journey on which you have embarked has no end.

If there is one work which embodies the whole theme of this exemplary exhibition, it is that of Hockney's great piece We Two Boys Together Clinging, (1961). Is convergence clinging? Or is it a pleasing set of circumstances? Is it in 'artspeak' a 'happy accident'?

You may possibly arrive at a considered judgement, which says that it is all three, and you would not be wrong.

Finally, before we leave the theme of convergences, as you walk around the other galleries at the Hepworth, you cannot help but stumble across another convergence, but that's another story, for another occasion.

The Hepworth Wakefield's exhibition programme is supported by Hiscox, The Contemporary Circle and Alan Wheatley Art

The Hepworth Wakefield, Gallery Walk, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, WF1 5AW
Open daily, 10am – 5pm. Free entry