Collections> Browse David Hockney

Collections> Browse David Hockney

David Hockney
Holdings (234)
2 paintings, 9 models, 209 edition prints/proofs, 3 posters, 1 preparatory materials for works on paper, 2 unique works on paper, 4 drawings, 2 books, 2

Wikipedia About David Hockney

David Hockney, OM, CH, RA, (born 9 July 1937) is an English painter, draughtsman, printmaker, stage designer and photographer, who is based in Bridlington, Yorkshire and Kensington, London. An important contributor to the Pop art movement of the 1960s, he is considered one of the most influential British artists of the twentieth century. Full Wikipedia Article

essay David Hockney, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

The subjects of David Hockney’s exuberant work serve as a compendium of his visual world: portraits of friends and family, still lifes and studies of gardens and interiors, landscapes familiar and foreign, and—famously—bright turquoise California swimming pools, with palm trees and bathers. His loving attention to the world around him, along with his unabashed affection for color and his virtuosic skill as a draughtsman, links him with another great domestic sensualist, Henri Matisse, who likewise was “unable to distinguish between the feeling I have about life and my way of translating it.” Matisse dreamed of an art that was as mentally soothing as “a good armchair that provides relaxation from fatigue”;1 Hockney, for his part, has said, “I have always believed that art should be a deep pleasure.”2 However, his acknowledged mentor is not Matisse, but Picasso—from the youthful melancholia of the Blue period to the astonishing inventiveness of Cubism to the machismo of his late, lusty Minotaurs.3 Like his mentor, Hockney is extraordinarily prolific and has an appetite for experimentation. He has worked in painting, drawing, photography, and printmaking (with such unorthodox tools as the fax machine and the photocopier) and he has made vibrant set designs for the opera and ballet. But too much should not be made of his affinity with Picasso, for Hockney has absorbed the legacy of the past, as every artist must, and reworked it into something very much his own.

The artist was born in Bradford, an industrial city in northern England, and attended the Bradford School of Art for two years before moving to London in 1959 to continue his studies at the Royal College of Art. During those pre-Pop years, American abstraction was the avant-garde model, but Hockney never gravitated in that direction. He always preferred to work figuratively, at first in a linear, expressionistic style that featured text and literary motifs drawn from fairy tales and poetry, and later in a pared-down style with brighter colors and more contemporary imagery. These later pictures aligned him, during the mid-1960s, with the cheeky, anarchic work of the British Pop artists, who included Peter Blake, Allen Jones, and Joe Tilson. All were presented at the Walker Art Center in a 1965 exhibition entitled London: The New Scene; Hockney was by then painting “larger-than-life people in idealized landscapes and interiors which are fantasies of plasticized splendor.”4 In those early years, the artist felt that “style is something you can use, and you can be like a magpie, just taking what you want. The idea of the rigid style then seemed to me something you needn’t concern yourself with, it would trap you.”5

During the 1970s Hockney traveled extensively and moved households several times before eventually settling in Los Angeles, where he has lived ever since. His work began to reflect the bright light and lush landscape of his immediate environment, and he returned in earnest to the motif of the swimming pool, which he had already explored in the 1960s. His crisp compositions of sparkling azure water, tanned boys, diving boards, splashes, ripples, and the blank backsides of California bungalows are among his most distinctive works. Paper Pools, a series of works begun in 1978, is an experimental fusion of painting and papermaking in which colored paper pulp was poured into cookie-cutterlike molds, run through a press to consolidate the layers, and finished with additional dyes and pulps applied by hand—a perfect marriage of gorgeous, watery images and liquid technique.

Hollywood Hills House (1981–1982) is a portrait of the first house Hockney bought in Los Angeles, painted from memory while he was in London for the Christmas holidays. “I just painted it to cheer myself up in gray London; I happened to have three canvases, and the picture was a kind of triptych. I shipped it unfinished back to California and finished it there.”6 The flattened volumes of the furniture and shallow interior spaces in the left panel are reminiscent of Cubism; in the central and right panels, bright, Fauvist colors deftly define sun, shade, palm, and pool.

The most prominent objects in Hockney’s painted living room are two small models for stage sets, on which he was working at the time he made this picture.7 He had been doing costumes and decor for the opera since 1975, when his designs for Igor Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress debuted at the Glyndebourne Opera Festival in Lewes, East Sussex. Hockney used William Hogarth’s bawdy eighteenth-century engravings as a starting point, adapting their precise crosshatching and muted palette to underscore the stringency of Stravinsky’s music. He continued designing for the opera and ballet, enjoying the chance to challenge his working habits with new assignments. In 1983, he reinterpreted eight of his projects for the Walker’s exhibition Hockney Paints the Stage, organized by then-director Martin Friedman. Over the course of six weeks in Minneapolis, Hockney turned the galleries into a magical series of tableaux featuring scaled-down facsimiles of his designs, some of which he edited and changed for the occasion. The result, according to one review, was a show that “seemed alive, like a theater production in and of itself, rather than a record of events past.”8

In recent years, Hockney has continued to experiment, using the fax machine as a printer and mass-distribution tool for playful multipart drawings. He makes photographs and composite Polaroid portraits, and of course he still paints and draws. The richness of the world around him is, as it has always been, his chief delight and his main subject, and it is one of the things that he believes makes his work so appealing to others. “The art that relates to human beings, to their passions, is what pleases people. It’s the passion that people recognize.”9

  1. Henri Matisse, “Notes of a Painter,” 1908, reprinted in Jack Flam, Matisse on Art (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 37–43.

  2. David Hockney, That’s the Way I See It (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1993), 133.

  3. While attending London’s Royal College of Art, Hockney encountered Picasso’s work for the first time in a large exhibition at the Tate Gallery, which he visited eight times. He has since collected the complete thirty-three-volume Zervos catalogue raisonné of Picasso’s works. See Gert Schiff, “A Moving Focus: Hockney’s Dialogue with Picasso,” in Maurice Tuchman and Stephanie Barron, eds., David Hockney: A Retrospective, exh. cat. (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1988), 41.

  4. Press release for the 1965 exhibition London: The New Scene (Walker Art Center Archives).

  5. Quoted in Schiff, “A Moving Focus,” 41.

  6. Hockney, That’s the Way I See It, 84.

  7. The models are designs for Maurice Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortileges (on the left) and Francis Poulenc’s Les mamelles de Tirésias (right). Both were produced at the Metropolitan Opera in 1981, on a triple bill that also included Erik Satie’s Parade. Hockney designed sets and costumes for all three. The artist has said the exterior of his house in Hollywood Hills was painted in bright colors based on his designs for the Ravel opera, and that the interior palette was inspired “partly by seeing the De Stijl exhibition at the Walker.” See Martin Friedman, Hockney Paints the Stage, exh. cat. (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 1983), 56.

  8. Kenneth E. Silver, “Hockney, Center Stage,” Art in America 73, no. 11 (November 1985): 158.

  9. Quoted in Anthony Bailey, “Profiles: Special Effects,” New Yorker, July 30, 1979, 67.

Rothfuss, Joan. “David Hockney.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.

© 2005 Walker Art Center

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