David Hockney (b.1937)
The Most Beloved
MODERN BRITISH PAINTING
The painter, printmaker, photographer and stage designer David Hockney is one of the most successful and influential of all living English artists. Based in America for much of his adult creative life, his reputation rests on his fine drawing skills, as well as his innovative work in the field of printmaking and photocollage. Seen as a founding member of the British Pop Art movement in the 1960s, he has been the subject of countless solo exhibitions worldwide including a major touring retrospectives staged at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Tate Gallery, London in 1988, and the Royal Academy of Arts in London (1995-6).
Although he has attracted a degree of controversy for his gay status, he remains - along with JMW Turner and John Constable - one of the most popular of all English artists, and without question the most famous Yorkshire man in the world of contemporary art. (Note: For a comparison with other painters, see: Top Contemporary Artists.)
WORLDS TOP ARTISTS
MEANING OF ART
Born in Bradford, the fourth of five children, Hockney gained a scholarship to Bradford Grammar School where his passion for art made him determined to become an artist and led him to request a transfer to art school. This was reluctantly granted by his parents but only after he had demonstrated the strength of his convictions with a campaign of non-conformity in the classroom, doodling and drawing comic strips in notebooks instead of working at his lessons. He would also pass away afternoons at Sunday School drawing cartoons of Jesus. Yet at the same time his obvious artistic talents won him prizes and recognition. In the end, his parents yielded and sent him to the Bradford School of Art, where he studied anatomy, linear perspective and drawing from the nude, displaying his precocious draughtsmanship in a series of portraits, and oil paintings. Above all, he began to understand that painting was a process of seeing and thinking, rather than mere imitation. His early artwork was abstract while he admired the compositions of painters such as Francis Bacon, and he would often travel to London to visit various art shows. He also started producing his first colour lithographs. In 1957, he passed the National Diploma in Design Examination with honours, after which he did his 2 years of National Service as a hospital orderly due to his conscientious objector status as a Methodist. He then began a 3-year postgraduate course at the Royal College of Art in London, along with fellow students R.B. Kitaj, Allan Jones, Peter Phillips, Derek Boshier and Patrick Caulfield.
Hockney immediately felt at home in the atmosphere and surroundings of the Royal College, thriving in the kinship of fellow artists, and entered an important period of self-discovery. In particular, he found himself free to talk about his gender orientation with other gay men. First and foremost however, he was a dedicated and highly motivated student, determined to explore as many art forms as possible in order to discover his own style. Thus he turned initially to drawing from life in two elaborate studies of a skeleton before experimenting with abstract art. He was also searching for ways of incorporating a personal subject-matter into his art. This led him into painting works about his favourite poetry and vegetarianism, and he even began incorporating allusions to his gender orientation, writing words such as "queer" and "unorthodox lover" in some of his pictures. These inscriptions soon gave way to more overt declarations in a series of paintings produced in 196061 on the subject of gay love, which included We Two Boys Together Clinging (1961). The impact of its subject-matter was enhanced by the rudimentary almost childishly drawn figures, scrawled graffiti and the rough texture of the painting surface. These pictures derived much from the faux-naïf idiom of Jean Dubuffet as well as the paintings of Picasso, whose 1960 retrospective at the Tate Gallery had a major impact on Hockney's style. These early irreverent, ironic 'pop' paintings plus his more formal works, together with his growing interest in various forms of graphic art and printwork, rapidly marked Hockney as an artist of great potential. Still only 23, the versatility and flair of his painting, allied to his maturing ebulliant personality lent him an aura of authority. He was already showing at various exhibitions of modern art, including the London Group 1960.
In 1961, along with Peter Blake, Derek Boshier, Allen Jones, RB Kitaj and Peter Phillips, Hockney exhibited at the Young Contemporaries Exhibition (an annual show of works by British art students): an event which first drew attention to the emerging style of British Pop art, and brought Hockney added fame as one of its ringleaders. During the summer he sold several paintings to pay for his first trip to New York, where he and friends visited most of the city's galleries and museums, as well as the trendy gay spots. While there, he utilized the facilities of the Pratt Institute to work on his sketching and painting, including an idea for a modern version of William Hogarth's "Rake's Progress," a printing project which he completed two years later. The atmosphere of personal freedom which he encountered in New York also fuelled his self-discovery. He started bleaching his hair and began to present a new image.
Returning to England in the fall to complete his studies at the Royal College of Art, Hockney attracted significant attention from critics, professors, and fellow students at several student exhibitions. His artwork had a poetic feel, and reintroduced narrative in a modern way with noticable irony. In early 1962 he exemplified his growing range with an exhibition of a set of paintings under the title Demonstrations of Versatility, each executed in a different style - flat, illusionistic, scenic, genre-style. The force of Hockney's draughtsmanship, his genre-painting, portraiture, literary influences, strongly personal approach, and increasing maturity as a person, all combined to enable him to establish a clear artistic identity for himself. Despite failing his Art History exams he was awarded the Royal College of Art gold medal for 1962. The following year, he sold the etchings of his updated version of Rakes Progess for the amazing sum of £5,000. This level of commercial success meant that he became independent quite soon after leaving college and, unlike the majority of his contemporaries, did not have to rely on teaching in order to make ends meet. From this time on, he was represented by the influential art dealer John Kasmin.
In 1963, after finishing his studies, Hockney travelled to New York, Berlin and Egypt to get inspiration and ideas for illustrations. In New York he met Andy Warhol, who - along with Roy Lichtenstein - was one of the rising stars of American Pop art. He also saw a friend, Henry Geldzahler, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who encouraged him to visit Los Angeles - which Hockney did at the end of the year. It was everything he expected and more. He arrived knowing nobody, and yet in the space of 7-days he found a place to stay in Santa Monica, arranged a studio for himself, passed the driving test, bought a car, and even drove to Las Vegas where he won some money gambling. The Los Angeles lifestyle and landscape became important features of Hockney's work, in more ways than one. Passing much of the day on the Santa Monica waterfront, he would admire the beautiful boys who paraded along the beach. To capture the colourful California urban landscape he switched from his beloved oils to the newer medium of acrylics, and developed his own signature style of naturalistic-realistic painting. His 1964 work The California Collector included his first depiction of an LA swimming pool, an image he would repeat countless times, employing a flat, modern manner with looping wavy lines to portray the moving water, and a semi-abstract jigsaw-puzzle surface reminiscent of works by Jean Dubuffet. In addition to pools, his subjects also included the sculpted Californian men he encountered, as in works like Man in Shower in Beverly Hills (1964), while he also began using photography, especially photomontage, to develop his compositions.
As one might expect, the Riviera-type anything-goes environment of California had a major impact on Hockney's professional and private life. He had fantasized about the place well before moving there, and had already produced Domestic Scene, Los Angeles (1963), a painting depicting two men in a shower, derived from magazine photos. Indeed, one might say that his move to LA was the realization of his fantasy of a sensual and uninhibited paradise of swimming pools, perpetual sunshine and blonde young men. It is also fair to say that his bright Californian imagery also appeals to our own escapist tendencies, and may be an important factor in his appeal as an artist. Would we feel the same about him if he had escaped to Bratislava, or Pittsburgh? I wonder.
In 1964 Hockney spent time teaching at the University of Iowa and, during the following two years, taught at the University of Colorado in Boulder, in Los Angeles and at Berkeley. Recognition within the arts profession continued to come his way. In 1964, he staged his first American solo show at the Alan Gallery in New York, where he received rave notices and sold every painting. In 1966, he enjoyed no fewer than five solo shows in Europe. In the same year, he met a nineteen-year-old American student called Peter Schlesinger, with whom he had his first real love affair. In 1967, the pair returned to Europe and toured the continent - the same year that Hockney completed his famous painting A Bigger Splash, and when his painting Peter Getting Out Of Nick's Pool, won the John Moores painting prize at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. It was also during this period that Hockney began making stage designs for theatres on both sides of the Atlantic.
It was during the 1960s that he began his lifelong interest in set-design for the theatre, opera and ballet. His first commission involved Jarry's Ubu Roi at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 1966. This was followed by designs for Igor Stravinsky's Rake's Progress (Glyndebourne Festival 1974), and for Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (Glyndebourne Festival 1978), as well as a commission for costumes and sets for a triple performance of works by Satie, Poulenc and Ravel at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Later he created sets for a work by Stravinsky at the Metropolitan Opera, Puccini's Turandot in San Francisco, Wagner's Tristan und Isolde in Los Angeles, and Strauss's Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London.
In 1968 Hockney returned to London with Schlesinger, who began studying at the Slade School of Fine Art. He also painted his first large double-portraits, such as those of Fred and Marcia Weisman, and Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy. The year ended with a solo show in New York at the André Emmerich Gallery.
The following year Hockney accepted an offer to become a guest professor at the Kunsthochschule in Hamburg in 1969, but at home his relationship with Schlesinger was beginning to deteriorate - a process captured on film in a frank documentary on Hockney's life being made at the time by Jack Hazan.
Meantime in 1970, Hockney's first major retrospective exhibition was held at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London, and the artist continued to be feted as a major figure in the English art world. The retrospective subsequently toured to Hanover, Rotterdam and Belgrade. In 1971 Hockney completed his most famous piece of portrait art - Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (later voted the most popular modern painting in the Tate Gallery).
By this time Hockney's worries about appearing modern had receded and he began to have more confidence in allowing his naturalistic portrayal of the world to speak for itself. But some of his pictures from the early 70s continued to suffer from a rather lifeless appearance due to their over-reliance on photographic sources. (Similar criticism has been made of the Scottish contemporary genre-painter Jack Vettriano.) Fortunately, he continued to excel in drawings from life, as exemplified in such pen-and-ink portraits as Nick and Henry on Board, Nice to Calvi (1972).
In 1973, Hockney went to work in Paris for a short time, where he collaborated with Aldo and Piero Crommelynck, the former master printers of Picasso, to produce a set of etchings in memory of the great Spanish genius who had died earlier that year. In 1974, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris held a major exhibition of Hockney's works. It was also the year which saw the completion of Jack Hazan's biographical film on Hockney's life, entitled A Bigger Splash. Although initially shocked by the film's candour about his gay status as well as his relationship with the much younger Schlesinger, Hockney eventually approved its release.
During the mid-1970s Hockney abandoned fine art painting for a while in order to concentrate on drawing and etching, as well as new commissions for stage and theatre designs. His continuing curiosity with differing art forms led him to produce considerable bodies of work in different media, such as the Paper Pools and other pulped paper works of 1978, as well as a number of trial experiments with polaroid and 35 mm photography, in which produced hundreds of composite pictures (joiners) in an attempt to apply the multi-angle analytical Cubist technique to a mechanical medium. In 1978 he took up permanent residence in the Hollywood Hills overlooking Los Angeles.
During the 1980s Hockney turned to photo collage, employing a Polaroid camera. He drove across the southwest United States taking thousands of photos which he then assembled into panoramic montages, such as You make the picture, Zion Canyon, Utah. (Subsequently, these photo-montages were the subject of a retrospective of the artist's photography at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.) These works were part of a continuing fascination with technical gadgetry that culminated in the production of home made prints on photocopiers, as well as images conveyed by fax machine or devised on a computer. He also replicated some of the perspective theories of these collages in paintings like A Visit with Christopher and Don, Santa Monica Canyon (1984), comprising two canvases measuring approx 2 X 6 metres.
In 1981, as a diversion from this camerawork, Hockney participated in the figurative art exhibition A New Spirit in Painting at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, submitting four new paintings. And in 1983, he began a series of self-portraits, enabling the viewer to see the man behind the brush, and exposing his vulnerability in the process. More exhibitions and commissions followed. In 1985 he was commissioned to design the cover and a series of inside-pages for the French edition of Vogue magazine. Another significant commission involved the Quantel Paintbox, a computer software program that permitted the artist to draw directly onto the computer screen. His resulting work featured in a BBC series on the program. In 1988 a major retrospective of Hockney's work was staged in Los Angeles, which later toured New York and London.
In the 1990s, Hockney continued to play around with new technology. He employed a colour laser copier to create images in some of his works and replicated some of his paintings. Above all, he was impressed with the vibrancy of colour produced by these devices. This constant desire to experiment was also exemplified in the set of Very New Paintings begun in 1992. These were semi-abstract landscape views of the Pacific coast and the Santa Monica mountains, depicted in a succession of plunging perspectives, dazzling vistas, brilliant light and colour, after the style of Picasso and Matisse. In 1995 a retrospective of his drawings opened at the prestigious Royal Academy in London. This was followed in 1998 by a retrospective at the Museum Ludwig, Cologne; and a similar show at the Galleria d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Turin, at the Musée de l'Elysée in Lausanne, and at the Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie in Arles, and the Kunsthalle Krems in Lower Austria. The decade ended with a solo exhibition of his painting at the Centre Georges Pompidou, in Paris.
Now in his 60s, Hockney still retained a keen interest in the history of art. In the 2001 television program Secret Knowledge, he asserted that the famous Old Masters of the Renaissance and Baroque used camera obscura techniques to project an image of the subject onto the surface of the painting, reserving for the painter the simple task of filling in the outline with colour. According to Hockney, this technique explained how these artists were able to achieve the photographic quality of their portraits, although his view has been strongly opposed by the Art Renewal Centre who have published counter arguments in several articles, including experiences of living artists who have no use for such devices yet still produce paintings of photo-realistic quality.
In 2006, the National Portrait Gallery in London staged a major display of Hockney's portrait art, including self-portraits, comprising over 150 of his paintings, drawings, prints, sketchbooks and photo-collages completed over the previous 40 years. (See also: National Gallery London).
In 2007, Bigger Trees Near Warter - a monumental-scale view of a coppice in Yorkshire, and Hockney's largest ever picture, measuring a massive 15 feet by 40-feet - appeared in the Royal Academy's annual Summer Exhibition. Painted en plein air on 50 individual canvases, over a period of 5 weeks, the work was donated by the artist to the Tate Gallery the following year.
In 2008, Hockney enjoyed solo shows at The Arts Club of Chicago, Chicago, and Leslie Sacks Fine Art, Los Angeles. His works now hang in the best art museums around the world.
Hockney was made a Companion of Honour (CH) in 1997 and is also an Academician (RA) of the London Royal Academy of Arts.
In 2004, his work A Bigger Grand Canyon - a series of 60 paintings forming one huge composition - was purchased by the National Gallery of Australia for $4.6 million.
In June 2006, his painting A Bigger Splash was sold for £2.6m - a record for a Hockney painting.
Seen as one of the great 20th century painters, Hockney's reputation as an artist rests principally on the quality and precision of his draughtsmanship, as in his portraiture; as well as the quality and diversity of his etchings, as in his set of 16 etchings comprising a modern autobiographical version of William Hogarth's Rakes Progress, as well as his lithographic works and his Illustrations for Fourteen Poems for C. P. Cavafy, for Grimm's Six Fairy Tales and The Blue Guitar. However, these exemplary artworks fail to capture the extraordinary individuality, energetic innovation and sheer talent of the boy from Yorkshire, whose dream was to become an artist.
For another painter from Northern England with a quite different style, see: L.S. Lowry (1887-1976), noted for his cityscapes populated by his signature "matchstick men".
For information about contemporary artists, see: Homepage.
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF VISUAL ARTISTS