London is having yet another moment. Three fantastic shows of British artists who hit the London scene in the sixties are gracing museums this month, starting with a fabulous, larger than life, fifty-year retrospective of legendary rock band Pink Floyd.
This blockbuster of a show Their Mortal Remains at the Victoria & Albert is a psychedelic, audio-visual journey through time, showing the beginning, middle and end of this highly creative, technically brilliant and extremely private British band.
The successful cult group was catapulted into fame when its 8th album Dark Side of the Moon came out in 1973. That album remains one of the world’s best sellers, selling over 7,000 copies a week to this day.
They could have joined the audience at one of their own gigs without being recognised, said the late John Peel, referring to the media-shy band members Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Nick Mason and the late Richard Wright.
The group excelled at distracting attention from themselves by creating iconic imagery, surreal album covers,
ground-breaking theatrical stage sets, and new technically-produced sounds. Flying pigs, refracting prisms, a businessman on fire, seven hundred empty beds on a Devon beach and several other seminal images are all here. The headphones are a must – the music changes as one moves through the show.
Fans and newbies alike will love the enlightening back story; A stuntman had to be set alight 15 terrifying times on a Warner Bros. back lot to create the cover of Wish You Were Here. The infamous character ‘Teacher’ in The Wall refers to a teacher who used to cane Roger Waters, ex-band member Syd Barrett and long-time creative collaborator Storm Thorgerson when they were in school together. The exhibit includes both a 25-foot tall inflatable teacher and the original cane.
‘Mortal Remains’ ends at the end, with giant video screens on all four walls showing live footage of the group’s last performance “Comfortably Numb” in Hyde Park in 2005.
Next must-see is an 80th birthday retrospective of Britain’s most celebrated living artist, David Hockney, at Tate Britain which closes this Sunday, May 29th.
Featuring more than 100 works, the show looks back at the Yorkshire man’s early student days in London in the sixties. These slightly gloomy, dark works provide a stark illustrative contrast to what comes next. Hockney bursts through the canvas in California. Sex, sunshine, blue skies and the bohemian lifestyle liberate Hockney and his work.
These formalised, flat pictures – the swimming pool series and portraits of art collectors, writers, artists, people you’d like to meet, are delightful – simple, colourful, witty and provocative.
Then he experiments with a camera, later video and Ipad. Regardless of how successful his later works are, Hockney is always challenging himself, always evolving and regardless of what medium he uses – paint, charcoal photography or video, Hockney is always distinctly himself.
And final stop on this London tour is Howard Hodgkin, a painter who used splashes, dashes, dots and stripes of color to evoke memory and feeling.
Absent Friends at the National Portrait Gallery shows 52 paintings and drawings, tracing the inventive, vibrant visual language Hodgkin developed over a career spanning more than six decades. He was apparently thrilled to be asked to show his portraits at the NGP. Sadly, he died two weeks before the show opened, aged 84.
I find painting agony, he once said because of the effort required between the feeling and the mark on the canvas that would express that feeling.
Hodgkin painted what he felt and remembered about his friends, not so much the banalities of what they looked like. Memory, emotion and relationships depict Hodgkin’s approach to portraiture. The last major painting in the show (below) is an abstract self-portrait of the artist listening to music.
This post is also appearing in an edited version in the membership-only travel site Indagare.