Top picks for families visiting David Hockney

Yesterday morning I was at Tate Britain, lucky enough to preview the most extensive retrospective of the work of acclaimed British artist David Hockney. Spanning some 60 years of work, this exhibition is an undertaking for even the most hardy of visitors, so how on earth do you take on the task of navigating 12 rooms and over 200 works, if you’re visiting with the kids in tow?

Hockney’s work is brilliantly bold, colourful and popular, which also makes it quite accessible, but underlying this, it contains so many narratives and themes that children (and parents) can easily connect with. How to put your own stamp on things, how to get a reaction, but also how to replicate your own experience of being alive in the world when you’re moving at a hundred miles an hour!

Sadly, and a little short-sighted, Tate don’t appear to have much in the way of family related activities around the exhibition. West London Saturday school and after school group Imagine Art Club are running an Hockney for Kids event in May, which has seen an unprecedented response, but outside of this its pretty much a self-guided experience.

To help you get the most of this colossal exhibition, here’s my top tips for visiting on borrowed time:

Room 1 – Play within a Play
Illustrating Hockney’s playful take on reality versus illusion, this room will kick-start your interaction with the work. Is that a real person squashed behind the glass in Play Within a Play? And is that a circle on a blue background? Or a Rubber Ring Floating in a Swimming Pool? Is Blue Stools a photo or a painting? A great room for guessing games.

Room 4 – Sunbather
The perfect room to plot down with a sketchbook and replicate the stark colours and geometric shapes of Hockney’s 1960s and 70s LA. Here you’ll find sunlight, blue skies, palm trees and space, but look closer at A Bigger Splash, and you’ll find Hockney’s playful presence (painstakingly painted splash-droplets) amongst the flat and the brash.

Room 5 – Towards Naturalism
Home to the acclaimed double portraits, here things become more striking and spectacular, as Hockney began to paint more realistic, life-size representations of close family and friends. Go forth and find your favourite pairing. Although the static nature of this style eventually troubled Hockney (whose desire was to appear more dynamic), children will appreciate the humble imperfections present in much of this work.

Room 10 The Wolds
These large-scale puzzle-like Yorkshire landscapes produced for the Royal Academy show in 2012, continue to shake off ‘naturalism’, borrowing ideas from Van Gogh, with a three-point perspective offering a different window onto the same world. I had to look twice before I determined the real source of the life-like shadows on May Blossom on the Roman Road, and there isn’t a single young visitor that won’t want to get lost in Woldgate Woods.

Room 11 Four Seasons
If you’ve been racing through up to this point, you’ll welcome this unavoidable chance to stop and stare. Here, four, nine screen digital walls celebrate the seasons by repeatedly filming the same journey, in order to capture the experience as an on-the-ground observer. Enjoy the child-like excitement of crispy autumn leaves, the magic of falling snow flakes, and the emergence of spring sunshine.

Room 13 iPads
As parents, the subject of screen time forms endless debate, yet here, we see a master of art embracing technology to experiment with new styles and demonstrate the complexity of their thinking. There are some 78 iPad and iPhone ‘doodles’ in this room, and watching work ‘build’ provides awe-inspiring insight into how Hockney’s subtle touch turns a simple work of art, into a world-beating masterpiece.

Whilst studying at the Royal College of Art in the early 1960’s, Hockney lost direction, intimidated about what might lie ahead. It was at this point that his friend and art contemporary R B Kitaj asked him a poignant question – Why don’t you only focus on the things that you love? This sound advice led onto a lifetime of painting, drawing and photography, presented with unique character and a strong sense of wit. If you’re visiting this spectacular show with children, you would do well to heed the same advice. It’s impossible to do it all, so focus on what you love and all the rest will fall into place, and that’s your best bet for navigating this landmark exhibition.

David Hockney is at Tate Britain from 9th February until 29th May 2017
Tate Britain, Millbank, London, SW1P 4RG
Open daily 10am-6pm
Admission £19.50 Adults, Children £17.50, Under 12s free (up to four per family)