How time flies! When I was a student at the Royal College of Art it celebrated its centenary. That the college is now celebrating its 175th anniversary either means that I am a lot older than I thought or that the powers that be at the RCA can’t count. Or that they really like big birthdays. As it turns out, it’s this last option that sees the college celebrating 175 years as an art school a mere sixteen years after celebrating its centenary: the then Government School of Design was founded in 1837, becoming the National Art Training School in 1863 and the Royal College of Art in 1896.
The exhibition charts the history of what is apparently the world’s oldest art and design school in continuous operation and it’s an illustrious and fascinating history. Given the pool of alumni (and staff, past and present) from which the curators could select work, there were always going to be surprises both in terms of inclusions and omissions but this is a show that amply demonstrates the impact of RCA alumni on our cultural and day to day lives.
David Hockney, A Rake’s Progress, Plate No. 1 – The Arrival, 1961-63
If Hogarth’s The Rake’s Progress was a morality tale for its time then it’s perhaps unsurprising that it’s a tale that’s been retold by others for different times and changed moral imperatives. Over time inevitably, things change. There are few – if any – moral absolutes. Interpretation is key. Produced over two centuries after Hogarth’s series, David Hockney’s A Rake’s Progress tells the familiar tale of inheritance leading to a dissolute life and, ultimately, the mad house in a series of 16 prints: twice as many as the original, but fewer than the 24 plates apparently originally suggested to Hockney. Started while Hockney was still studying at the Royal College of Art, the series was largely made in London but is set in New York, where Hockney spent the summer of 1961. The rake here is Hockney himself, though he is drawing on his own experiences and twisting them to broadly fit Hogarth’s narrative, so that rather than receiving an inheritance from his father, Hockney’s rake gets money from a collector, though he is beaten down from $20 to $18 for his print.