For nearly 60 years British artist David Hockney has been painting, drawing, and experimenting with the limits of artistic production. While merging traditional techniques with modern technologies, Hockney is interested in examining perspective and the reproduction of images.
A celebrated artist, he has been inspired by the never-ending genius of Pablo Picasso. Simply put, “[Picasso] mastered every style, every technique. The lesson formed is to use all of them.” From the beginning of his career, Hockney took it upon himself to master every skill, to become a virtuoso; this is what the artist continues to accomplish.
Hockney’s most recognizable works revolve around water, pleasure, leisure, and the domestic lives of his friends and family as seen in his double portraits and swimming pools. Starting in 1964 after a move to Los Angeles he switched to acrylic paint and a roller and embarked on a formalist journey that depicts a hedonistic and modern California. He also incorporated the use of photography in his practice by painting from his photos, resulting in precise and yet almost immaterial images. The most recognizable A Bigger Splash (1967) and Portrait of an Artist [Pool with Two Figures] (1972) proudly show his experimentation in representing transparency and light in water and his fascination with the male figure.
During the same period, Hockney began his double portraits to embrace naturalism and depict the psychological relationships between his subjects, friends or family. Despite their intimate nature, he painted these large-format works with a sort of mechanical “photographic” coldness.
The most famous works in Hockney’s oeuvre are far from how he began his career. He received a traditional arts education from the Bradford School of Art and later the Royal College of Art in London. During his schooling, he expressed interest in the social realism found in the British Kitchen Sink School of his teachers and American Abstract Expressionism. As a result, his early works are less colorful and vibrant. These pieces represent a mix of gritty realism and abstraction with themes concerning love, homosexuality, sexual liberty, and domestic life. In finding his voice and expression, the artist brazenly borrowed stylistic elements from painters he admired such as Bacon, Dubuffet, Picasso, Balthus, Hopper and Morris Louis among others.
An underlying interest throughout Hockney’s career has been experimenting with the representation of space over time. Significantly inspired by Cubism, his work confronts traditional, static perspective in favor of multiple simultaneous viewpoints. Despite his skepticism towards photography, in the ‘80s he turned to photo collage and Polaroid composites to create what he calls “joiners.” He takes the camera’s single viewpoint, turns it on its head, and produces works that mimic traditional painting in size and subject while retaining photography’s claim to uninterrupted “reality.” Pearblossom Hwy., 11-18th April 1986, #1, 1986, for example, shows a highway desert scene composed of a couple of dozen photos aligned next to one another to portray how each is a different, singular perspective coming together to form the image as a whole.
While he has never abandoned traditional painting or drawing, Hockney broadens his experimentation by using technology such as the fax machine, printer, video, computer, and Apple products as new tools for creation. He uses his iPhone and since its launch in 2010, the iPad. The iPad specifically proved useful for blowing up images and as a sketchbook with the capacity to record and later replay the process of production. Pretty impressive for someone born well before the tech generation.
A captivating production showing Hockney’s enthusiasm for technology is The Four Seasons, Woldgate Woods, 2010-11, a work consisting of 36 synchronized screens showing video footage of winter, spring, summer, and fall in England. Hockney again combines old and new by taking the approach of a large-scale landscape painting, a traditional medium and theme, and puts it into motion through the application of nine high-definition tracking cameras. Here, a concept as simple as natural weather patterns results in the creation of a mesmerizing universe; the magic of 365 days transformed into a few minutes of simultaneous peaceful pleasure. It is a truly immersive experience that almost hypnotizes those who marvel at each season, either reliving their nostalgic memories or witnessing the changes for the very first time.
Hockney’s different themes and modes of production may be experienced in the most extensive retrospective of the artist to date, which also happens to celebrate his 80th birthday. The exhibition is currently on view at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and is scheduled to travel to New York City later this fall. Through over 160 works it is the most comprehensive survey of the Briton and touches upon all significant periods of his career.
During the exhibition’s run, the Pompidou announced with excitement that Hockney had generously donated one of his more recent large-scale landscape works to the museum. The work in question, The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire (2011) is the culmination of several months of continuous observation and sketching, all recorded on the artist’s iPad. The gift is a particularly important one as it is the first work by the artist to enter the Pompidou’s collection and according to Franceinfo to come into French collections as well. The work is currently on display in the museum’s central forum, open to everyone, and will be moved when the exhibition closes on October 23rd.
David Hockney is on view at the Centre Pompidou in Paris until October 23rd, 2017 and afterward will travel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City at the museum’s Fifth Avenue location, opening November 27th, 2017 and on view until February 25th, 2018.