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David Hockney – Eternally in tune with the times

Written by: Kris Mercer

David Hockney RA is one of the most important British artists of the 20th century – now in his eighties he retains the ability to create and design new things. At the beginning of the pandemic, David Hockney captured the emergence of spring on his iPad, creating 116 new works in praise of the natural world.

This exhibition will be opening at the RA exactly a year after the works were made.

Royal Academy of Arts 27th March – 22nd August 2021

David Hockney was born in 1937 in Bradford.

He is well known as a painter, draftsman, printmaker, stage designer and photographer. He attended Bradford Grammar School and Bradford College of Art before moving down to the Royal College of Art in London, where he studied from 1959 until 1962. He was awarded the Royal College of Art gold medal in 1962 in recognition of his mastery as a draughtsman and his innovative paintings.

References to his homosexuality appeared first in the titles of artworks such as Doll Boy and Going to be Queen for Tonight. A fellow student, Kitaj, had suggested that they should simply paint what they liked and Hockney liked young men.

At the Royal College of Art, Hockney featured in the exhibition Young Contemporaries in February 1961, where his paintings hung alongside that of his colleagues: R B Kitaj, Allen Jones, Patrick Caulfield and Peter Blake.

David Hockney’s remarkable early rise to fame in the profession was closely tied to his friend and dealer John Kasmin who bought Doll Boy from the Young Contemporaries exhibition.

As a student, under the Royal College’s rules, Hockney was not allowed to sign up with a commercial gallery. Nevertheless, Kasmin persuaded the Marlborough Gallery to let him show the artist’s work, having a few drawings and the occasional painting he could sell privately.

Most of Hockney’s pictures were to do with boys, gay love and unrequited passions. He did, however, make a few works which reference contemporary consumer culture. The Pop art movement was gathering momentum – which allowed him to be easily associated with such artists as Derek Boshier and Andy Warhol.

Hockney was getting increasingly recognised and prizes and commissions helped to pay for a trip to New York in the summer of 1961. It was at this time he bleached his hair, establishing one of the characteristics that would secure his fame. While in America, Hockney heard Kasmin had set up a gallery on his own.

He signed a forward-dated contract to start exhibiting after leaving college. By the time of his first exhibition at the Kasmin Gallery, towards the end of 1963, Hockney was a well-known figure.

He had fulfilled a commission for the Sunday Times colour supplement to travel to Egypt to record what he saw there. The feature was dropped due to the assassination of President John Kennedy on November 22, 1963, and amazingly enough, wasn’t published until nearly 50 years later.

Hockney moved to Los Angeles in 1964 and began painting palm trees, swimming pools, and the uninhibited life of young men.

The Kasmin gallery showed his first painting of a Californian swimming pool in the 1965 exhibition. In 1967 he painted the now famous ‘A Bigger Splash’ By 1968, Los Angeles life was the focus of his art. Young men in the shower or in the pool, lawn sprinklers and grid-like modern office blocks made up his subject matter.

Portrait of an artist pool with two figures – by David Hockey

The mid-1970s saw Hockney experimenting with photography. He went on to create his famous photographic collages with Polaroids and snapshots.
In 1988 he bought a house and studio in Malibu, had a retrospective of work at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and created the first work of art transmitted by fax.

A multi-talented resourceful artist, Hockney has always produced work using the technology of the day such as fax machines, laser photocopiers, computers and more recent iPhones and iPads.

He was still working on landscape paintings, photography, printmaking and stage designs for Opera and in 2007, the year of his 70th birthday, he completed the largest painting of his lifetime.

Possibly the largest en Plein air painting ever made. It was a sensation at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. It measured 15 x 40 feet, comprising 50 canvases, each painted outdoors. This was followed by the Royal Academy’s blockbuster David Hockney: A Bigger Picture which
opened in 2012, featuring large-scale works inspired by the East Yorkshire landscape.

In 2013 Hockney returned to Los Angeles. He began to return to portraiture. In the months that followed, he became absorbed and created a series of artworks that became the 2016 exhibition

In 2016 Westminster abbey commissioned Hockney to design a window in commemoration of the Queen’s reign. This was to replace the last of the clear glass windows in the 11th-century building.

David Hockney’s retrospective at Tate Britain in 2017 was the gallery’s most-visited ever. A staggering 478,082 people went to see the exhibit (including yours truly) in London.

Stained glass window at Westminster Abbey – by David Hockney

In 2019 Hockney left Los Angeles after 55 years for Normandy, France. He had lived in the city that made him famous, on and off since 1964. It is rumoured that the move was prompted by the fact that it is illegal to smoke in public anywhere in LA. Hockney was more willing to give up Los Angeles than the luxury of smoking.

He bought his new house, in Normandy, on a whim and it is from there that he has completed a new series of works. The works which will be exhibited at the Royal Academy in 2021 capture the emergence of spring in the garden of his new home.

If you want to know more about this amazing artist this video is much more than just a review of 2 exhibitions.

Revisit 2012’s ‘A Bigger Picture’, and ‘82 Portraits and One Still-Life’ from 2016 at the Royal Academy.

With 120 hours of footage to choose from to make the award-winning documentary David Hockney: A Bigger Picture (Coluga Pictures, 2009), many gems didn’t make the final cut. Here are 80 short clips that can be viewed online.

Exhibitions in the UK

2017 Tate Britain, London
2016 Royal Academy of Arts
2014 Dulwich Picture Gallery
2013 Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool – 25 Trees and Other Pictures by David Hockney, Salts Mill Saltaire, West Yorkshire, England
2012-13 Cartwright Hall Art Gallery, Bradford
2012 Whitworth Gallery, Manchester – Royal Academy of Arts
2010 Southbank Centre, London
2009 Nottingham Contemporary
2006 David Hockney: Graphics and Drawings, Andipa Gallery, London, England (solo) – Kasmin’s Sixties, Kasmin Gallery, London, England
2000 Encounters: New Art from Old, National Gallery, London, England – David Hockney: A Print Retrospective, Alan Cristea Gallery, London, England (solo)
1999 Recent Etchings, Alan Cristea Gallery, London, England (solo)
1997 Flowers, Faces and Spaces, Annely Juda Fine Art, London, England – Drawing Retrospective, Hamburg, Germany (travelled to Royal Academy of Art, London, England; Los Angeles County Museum, Los Angeles, USA) (solo)
1988 David Hockney: A Retrospective, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA (travelled to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; The Tate Gallery, London, UK) (solo) Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago, USA
1981 Knoedler/Kasmin Gallery, London, England
1970 Retrospective, Whitechapel Gallery, London, England
1965 Kasmin Gallery, London, England
1963 Kasmin Gallery, London, England (solo)