David Hockney, born 1937, is widely accepted to be one of the most influential artists of the 20th Century, his appeal crossing continents. Born in Yorkshire, England, the artist is now returning to the institution that is the Tate Britain for a grand exhibition. As the artist turns 80, the historic London gallery is showcasing the last 60 years of work in his most comprehensive exhibition to date.
Having never been confined to one medium, the iconic artist has managed to succeed where others have failed, in conveying his messages through a diverse set of methods. Hockney’s talents stretch from print making to photography, and set design. The exhibition at the Tate Britain exposes every form, from his summer hued paintings to photo collage work, comical sculptures, pencil self-portraits and his more recent video work. An example of which is “The Four Seasons” (2011) installation, which was filmed in a forest near his Yorkshire home. This documented the course of nature during a year.
Born in Bradford and trained at London’s prestigious Royal College of Art, Hockney has lived on and off in California for the last 30 years. While at College, he was featured in the RCA’s exhibition, Young Contemporaries, which marked the emergence of British Pop art. Nevertheless, his early works implied a more expressionist style. The early recognition of his talent was demonstrated when the RCA remarkably altered the school’s regulation to allow Hockney to graduate without the required final essay. The tenacious creative wanted only to be judged on his practical work; a constructive attitude he has demonstrated persistently ever since.
His most exemplary of works shown in the exhibition were a product of his move to Los Angeles in the 60s. Sliding here into naturalism, his bright, but realistic, still poolside scenes have come to symbolise the diverse artist. Describing Picasso as an influence, Hockney has also not been afraid to venture into surrealism with his more vibrant theatrical scenes and distorted landscapes.
The exhibition also shows some of his most recent works for their first public viewing, including still life garden scenes cast in Hollywood light and a bright colour palette (‘Garden 3’ and ‘Two Pots on the Terrace’). Although his subjects are always evolving, an important theme within Hockney’s earlier works were male relationships. Unlike his counterpart and friend Andy Warhol, Hockney openly explored homosexuality in his art. With the decriminalisation homosexuality in the UK during 1967, Hockney has always demonstrated in his personality, with a clear sense of freedom and confidence.
Nevertheless, David Hockney’s work can rarely be deemed political; with the appearance of his light hearted personality being the most recognisable and consistent feature of his works. One of his most explicit ventures into public concern is shown at the Tate in the form of a plug socket still life. The artist, painting on his Ipad, captured a stack of adapters in his hotel room and emblazoned it with the phrase ‘WILL EUROPE EVER FIT TOGETHER’.
Due to Hockney’s versatility, what also becomes apparent from the exhibition is the influence of technology on his own development. Painting using computers as early as was possible, the artist has avoided any stubbornness of age when it comes to embracing digital potential. In a digital collage of friendly card players, he has imposed his own art piece from 30 years previous. He created the original, now “inceptioned” work, through a long process of manual layering of dark room photography (Road to Renewal). This embrace of modern methods is one of the reasons that the last decade has been one of his most productive to date.
While some view the artist’s diverse work as fragmented, Hockney suggests there is a running theme – his long term exploration into perceptions of time. It is rare an artist is recognised from such an early age – with his first solo exhibition held at 26 – and as a consequence we can witness the bridge from modern to contemporary artist. As well as his unparalleled stylistic versatility, Hockney also demonstrates an uncommon practicality as an artist. Avoiding a solitary life, he has collaborated on costume designs for Opera and even designed a French Vogue cover (1985). This exhibition is a unique chance to explore fully an artist’s reach, and an admirable career.
Lifted by Hockney’s optimism and his graphic ability to create memorable images, this exhibition is a delight. It also takes a needed approach to highlighting the inconspicuous coherence in concept amongst his swathes of experiments. Nevertheless, Hockney doesn’t strive for obscurity, or exclusivity, he is a people pleaser; hence why this retrospect has already broken records for advanced ticket sales at the Tate Britain.
Special thanks to the Tate Britain and Sources for Press Materials.
The exhibition at the Tate Britain will continue until the 29th of May 2017.