Monday 31 December 2012

The Bigger Picture

The East Riding of Yorkshire is considered by many as a provincial backwater. This ‘riding’ is the least well known of the three traditional constituent parts of the old county of Yorkshire. Whereas the West Riding has the lion's share of the population (with the Leeds-Bradford and Sheffield conurbations), and the North Riding has the greatest preponderance of tourist attractions (including the Yorkshire Dales and North Yorks Moors national parks), the East Riding is thinly populated and geographically off the beaten track. Apart from the port of Hull and the resorts of Bridlington and Filey, for many, the East Riding is a blind spot on the map of northern England. But all of a sudden, things are changing.   

VHEY is a cryptic acronym for the organisation which is responsible for promoting tourism in the region. In fact, is the equally implausible website address. Geographically, the territory that the VHEY tourist body represents roughly equates to the now defunct East Riding of Yorkshire (which was swallowed up by newly created North Yorkshire and Humberside regions in the local government reorganisation of 1974). It occupies an irregular triangle delineated by an imaginary line which joins up York, Hull, Spurn Head, Bridlington, Scarborough and York. The main geomorphological feature are the Yorkshire Wolds, which (for my Dutch readers) are not dissimilar to the undulating ‘uplands’ of South Limburg. The Yorkshire Wolds mark the most northerly limits of chalk in Britain and form a largely homogeneous region of rolling hills, with the Vale of Pickering situated to the north and the low-lying district of Holderness to the south.

VHEY is now producing lavishly printed brochures promoting the region as one which ‘could have been made for cycling, walking, picnics and exploring’. However, the boost to the tourist trade that VHEY is anticipating is not the result of a dream marketing campaign, but more indirectly due to the efforts of one of Yorkshire’s famous sons, David Hockney.

Though born (1937) and educated in Bradford, as an artist, Hockney is most commonly associated with California. It is his stylised and straightforward acrylics of the Californian landscape and his so-called swimming pool paintings for which he is best known. Throughout his 60-year career, he has also experimented widely with new technologies, for example, photographic landscape composites as an ‘investigation of cubism’. Photocopiers, fax machines and – more recently – the iPad have featured amongst his chosen media.

For much of the last 15 years however - many would say in the twilight of his career – Hockney has been capturing images of the East Riding on canvas, whilst also embracing the opportunities provided by digital technology in this quest. Video installations are the latest addition to this.

Working from a studio in Bridlington, a port and seaside resort which lies on the eastern edge of the Wolds, Hockney has been producing monumental landscape paintings of various locations in the Wolds, returning at various points throughout the year to provide immense ‘snapshots’ of the four seasons. Amongst his most popular locations are Woldgate and Thixendale, but also the village of Bigger, which – as a play on words – was used as the title of his most recent exhibition of the project, The Bigger Picture.

Hockney was invited to stage an exhibition of these works – which in any other mortal’s book would represent a lifetime’s work, so copious is his output -  at the RoyalAcademy in London in 2012, where it attracted record sell-out audiences. The exhibition has since been taken on tour to Bilbao (Guggenheim) and Cologne (Ludwig Museum).

No wonder the popularity of Hockney’s fascinating works, which feature the sweeping vistas, the majestic skyscapes and the rolling hillsides that predominate this rural backwater have not only been attracting art-lovers, but also the attention of marketing people keen to expand tourism in the region.

The exhibition runs in Cologne until 3 February 2013.
See also: 
Spot the Difference