Hockney's Grand Canyon to fill room at RA, and it's all done with mirrors

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DAVID HOCKNEY is to be the star of next month's Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition with an entire room devoted to his spectacular new paintings of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

For the first time in the exhibition's 230-year history, a room will be set aside to celebrate the work of one painter. Sir Philip Dowson, president of the Royal Academy, said yesterday: "This new initiative of a dedicated space will give a greater focus to the Summer Exhibition and celebrate each year the work of particular and distinguished artists."

About 400 exhibitors will be featured at the two-month show, including the British artists Patrick Caulfield, Peter Blake and Sandra Blow. The Academy aims to bring together exhibits by acclaimed artists, sculptors and architects from around the world with work by younger, less well-known ones. And the public has the chance to buy.

Hockney's work will include several panoramic views of the Grand Canyon, including two more than 20 feet long. It will also be the first time that the exhibition room - at Hockney's insistence - has included mirrors to reflect the grandeur of the canyon. "I was thinking of the forces of nature that actually made the canyon. The mirrors help express this," he said.

Hockney spent a week sitting alone on a chair at the Grand Canyon painting some of the most colourful, spacious and striking canvases of his career. "For seven days I sat there on my own chair from sunrise to sunset," he said.

In London yesterday, Hockney, who lives in California, renewed his call for the Government to legalise marijuana. In effusive mood, he said: "Of course they should legalise it. If I didn't smoke then I would have a glass of whisky. And is that any better? But of course they won't say anything about the alcohol industry. I have smoked a lot of marijuana and it hasn't harmed me.

"I smoke in the evenings. But I don't smoke when I'm working. Drugs and art don't mix. I've never painted when stoned. You get too pleased with everything."

Talking of his mother, who died recently aged 99, Hockney said: "She had her four children around her. So she was blessed in that way. I've done 100 or so portraits of her over the years and I've kept every one of them.

"If you're an artist who is interested in faces and people and you go and see your mother you're bound to want to make portraits. But I have no plans to exhibit them."

He added that after the Grand Canyon paintings he was now returning to portrait painting, mainly of friends and family. Earlier this week he visited one friend, the playwright Alan Bennett, to paint a portrait of him.

The Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy, Piccadilly, central London, runs from 7 June until 15 August.