David Hockney – A Portrait Of The Artist

David HockneyDavid Hockney, widely regarded as one of the most successful and recognisable artists of our time, once said: ‘I’m interested in all kinds of pictures, however they are made, with cameras, with paint brushes, with computers, with anything.’ From painting and drawing to photography and video, Hockney has mastered more than a few art forms in his 60-year career, while shifting his gaze from Los Angeles to Yorkshire and back again. Now, as the British artist approaches his 80th birthday, England lures him from the Hollywood Hills once more – this time for the world’s most extensive retrospective of his work to date: David Hockney at Tate Britain (from 9 Feb).

Presented in chronological order, this major exhibition at the riverside gallery traces the full trajectory of Hockney’s extraordinary oeuvre, beginning in 1961 with the autobiographical Love paintings that he created while still a student at the Royal College of Art. ‘Hockney has produced some of the most memorable and familiar images in art of the past 60 years – and he continues to do so,’ says curator Andrew Wilson. Alex Farquharson, director at Tate Britain, adds: ‘His practice is both consistent and also wonderfully diverse. His impact on post-war art, and culture more generally, is inestimable.’

Highlights include Hockney’s experiments with digital drawing, his famous LA swimming pool scenes, his celebrated Yorkshire landscapes of the 2000s and portraits of friends, such as poet WH Auden and artist Andy Warhol, and family. Together they reveal something of what makes the artist tick, as themes of parody, artifice and self-reflection surface again and again. ‘It has been a pleasure to revisit works I made decades ago, including some of my earliest paintings,’ says Hockney ahead of the much-anticipated opening. ‘Many of them seem like old friends to me now. We’re looking back over a lifetime with this exhibition.’

3 Things You Need To Know About Hockney

1: His Pictures Helped To Normalise Gay Relationships In The 1960s
Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy 1968
Homosexuality was illegal in the UK until 1967, and unlike some artists at the time, Hockney was openly gay. Created two years after he officially moved to Los Angeles, this painting shows the start of Hockney’s desire for more naturalism in his work. ‘Many of the ‘Double Portraits’ present a normalised picture of gay relationships in the period,’ explains Wilson. In the chairs are British novelist Christopher Isherwood and his partner, American artist Don Bachardy. From 1968, Hockney produced more portraits of friends, lovers and relatives, almost lifesize on the canvas. Gone are the oils in favour of acrylics – it’s as if Hockney is seeing the world in a new light, compared to England.

Portrait of an artist pool with two figures 19712: One Of Hockney’s Art Students Became His Muse 
Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) 1972 
‘This painting is one of the masterpieces of Hockney’s naturalism,’ says Wilson of the famous artwork, which shows Hockney’s ex-lover, the artist Peter Schlesinger. Hockney met Schlesinger in 1966 while teaching at UCLA and the art student quickly became his lover and muse. ‘This picture is suffused with an intensity and sense of longing set within an almost limitless landscape. Although the painting suggests a relationship between the two figures in the painting, it is most especially reflective about the relationship between Hockney and Schlesinger,’ explains Wilson. In 1968, the pair moved to London where Hockney enjoyed his first retrospective, at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, in 1970 but the following year Schlesinger left him. 

3: Hockney Has Lived In Los Angeles For More Than 30 Years
Outpost Drive, Hollywood 1980
Hockney first moved to LA in 1964. He told The Guardian last year: ‘LA has always inspired me. The light here is marvellous – much better than England.’ At the end of the 1970s, Hockney decided to experiment with new ways of seeing. ‘Having moved to a house in the Hollywood Hills, Hockney drove daily to and from his studio in LA and experienced the landscape in a new way,’ says Wilson. ‘The painting shows the beginnings of a use of multiple points of perspective and reverse perspective – the viewer is pulled into the space of the picture rather than left outside its frame.’ Inspired by a Picasso exhibition, he also produced multiple canvases with music and dance themes. The same year, he also began working with the Metropolitan Opera in New York on set designs for productions, which opened in 1981 to rave reviews. 

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