Bottoms up: Why my children enjoyed the new Hockney exhibition at Tate Britain almost as much as me

Half term saw us with the usual blank spaces to fill: where to go, what to do, what wholesome, vaguely educational or entertaining activities could be inserted into the week to ensure a pause from Fifa on the Xbox or a break from rummaging through BBC Iplayer to watch Gary Barlow and his Let It Shine chums light up giant stars as 17-year-old boys broke into a nervy sweat.


Portrait of an Artist (Pool With Two Figures) 1971

An easy and failsafe option for us South East Londoners is always a visit to the Tate Modern. Fifteen minutes on the train and we can wander along South Bank and let the children loose on the latest masterpieces. However this time it was the Tate Britain that we ventured to thanks to my sister – also at a loose end with her 10-year-old twins – announcing she was a member and she could get us into the David Hockney exhibition.


9 Canvas Study of the Grand Canyon 1998

A plan. An arty plan. A free plan. I liked it. And even better after ten years of living in this  hood I realised the 185 bus went practically door-to-door.  Could my day possibly get any better?

Forty minutes later after some quibbling about who was going to sit next to who on the top deck and  my unenthusiastic charges, 8 and 11, moaning that they didn’t want to go, that galleries were boring and could we go to Wagamamas for lunch (no we flippin’ well couldn’t), we had arrived.

With the Hockney exhibition only having opened the previous week, it was not surprising to find the place rammed with folk milling about in obligatory gallery pose – shuffling at the pace of tranquilised snails, arms behind backs, audio guides clamped on ears,  – but undeterred, and feeling slightly smug that we could jump the snaking queue thanks to my sister’s membership, we were soon standing face to face with some of the giant works of art I’ve always liked but only ever seen on postcards.

hockney splash

A Bigger Splash 1967

I had no idea of the vast scale. Many seemed to be the size of a small car sprawling at least 3m by 2m.  People jumping into swimming pools, people standing watching while other people jumped into swimming pools, people getting out of swimming pools  – they spread across the expansive walls in a riot of rippling aquamarine, cobalt blue and turquoise skies and immediately transfixed not just me but the children too.


Naturally the sight of male bare bottoms and naked men standing in showers held particular fascination for the youngest member of our arty party but once he’d got past the stifled-giggle and covert pointing phase, I actually overheard the four children discussing which colours they liked best and which masterpieces they’d want to have in their own homes.

My 8-year-old son was particularly drawn to the photo collage of this one below :

desert hockney

Pearblossom Hwy. Photographic Collage 1986

While my older daughter loved the winding roads and purple mountains of Santa Monica.

hockney mountains

Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica 1990

There were at least 6 or 7 rooms to explore. I loved the vibrant colours of this enticing balcony below –  huge swathes of candy pink and giant frothy leaves can’t fail to bring a bit of cheer on a drizzly winter morning.


Garden with Blue Terrace 2015

We also all liked the four seasons room where giant projections of a country lane filmed during spring, summer, autumn and winter engulfed the space and made us feel as though we were standing in the middle of the tree-lined road, feeling the dappled sun on our faces, or the crunchy snow beneath our feet.

Meanwhile in the final room we admired the portraits that had been done on Ipads  and I was intrigued to watch the speeded up step by step process of layering colour upon colour, slash upon dash to achieve the finished portraits that could be seen displayed above. I might try that one at home. Maybe.

After an hour or so of soaking up six decades of 79-year-old Hockney‘s work, from the rolling Yorkshire landscapes, blue skies, bare bottoms, stern-faced friends and rippling LA pools we were were finished and conveniently spat out into the gift shop where prints, tea towels, mugs and postcards jostled for space prompting immediate purchase requests from the children. At this point, and keen to buy myself a small print for £6,  I caved and allowed my offspring to also select a small picture for themselves. Postcards were allowed. Wagamamas still wasn’t.

Verdict: A big thumbs up and arty tick in cobalt blue from me and the children.  I would love to go again when it’s less crowded. Worth noting: The exhibition stays open until 10pm every Friday which sounds like an appealing time for a meander.

The Hockney exhibition runs at  Tate Britain until May 29.








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