Two old classmates and the modern art of exhibitionism

Click to follow

Allen Jones may have done all the work, but it was his former art school contemporary David Hockney who commanded the lion's share of the attention yesterday.

Allen Jones may have done all the work, but it was his former art school contemporary David Hockney who commanded the lion's share of the attention yesterday.

The two brightest stars from the Royal College of Art's fabled "class of '59" had come together for the first time as joint co-ordinators of this year's Royal Academy of Arts summer exhibition. Hockney was surrounded by television crews and photographers vying to capture the great man beside his latest watercolours. But the Yorkshireman was quick to point out that Jones was largely responsible for the show, a stalwart of the London summer season.

"Allen has done most of the work ... Allen is a very, very hard worker and the idea of a drawing exhibition is very worthwhile," the 66-year-old insisted.

Aside from his watercolours - six studies conceived during a recent visit to Spain - Hockney's main "suggestion" was to change the colour of the academy's walls for the show. He asked for the pure white, an art gallery convention since the 1960s, to be replaced with a more subtle khaki. "Bright white makes you see edges and when you put a lot of pictures together that means a lot of edges," he said.

Hockney has spent much time away from his home in Los Angeles this year travelling around Europe. He has also had an extended stay in London and Yorkshire. As a result, he said, he had been left "shocked" by the mocking reaction from sections of the media to the recent fire at the Momart warehouse in east London in which hundreds of artworks, including pieces by Tracey Emin and the Chapman brothers, were destroyed. Did he regard the crowing as a philistine response? "Yes, to a certain extent," he said.

"I was a bit shocked. I was away in Italy when someone first told me and I thought, 'Well that's horrible'. When I got back here and I was reading the headlines, they were getting back at some of the art ideas, they were following them logically, they were playing with it, in a sense saying that whatever is left is not necessarily a beautiful object. The object that is left: is it art or is it a souvenir?"

The focus of the walls at the RA's 236th exhibition is drawing. Jones, also 66, sifted through hundreds of images from professional artists and other professionals who use drawing in their work. The result is an eclectic display featuring the work of scientists, sportsmen, architects, mathematicians and filmmakers. Among the most striking is a video installation of the Papworth Hospital heart transplant surgeon Francis Wells demonstrating his techniques to students by sketching with a patient's blood and a pair of surgical forceps.

Another drawing by the England rugby coach Sir Clive Woodward shows his team tactics for the Six Nations game against Italy, which England won 50-9. There are also sketches by the musician Brian Eno, the fashion designer Alexander McQueen and the Nobel prize-winner Sir Harry Kroto.

Jones says traditional drawing skills are the foundation of good art. The failure to teach them has resulted in the loss of "visual skill" in the modern world, he says. "Drawing should be elevated again as a form of objective study in art schools. I had the benefit of an art education where you learnt motor skills without worrying if it was art or not. Now someone comes from school and wants to go into art school and pretty quickly they are given the anxiety of creativity - this emphasis on 'What do you do? What is your individuality?' How can you produce an idea if you haven't given them the tools to examine it?"

The featured artist at the exhibition is Richard Long, who displays landscapes from around the world. The Royal Academician Anish Kapoor displays a liquid curve in blood red fibreglass.

But it is the draughtsmanship of Hockney that steals the show. "I've always drawn - what else is there to do?" he says.

The summer exhibition runs from 8 June to 16 August.

Comments