David Hockney (born 1937) is amongst the most influential British artists of the twentieth century. Heavily implicated in the development of British Pop Art, Hockney was one of the first painters to explore the painterly potential of acrylic before investigating myriad media including printmaking, photocollage and iPad drawing over seven decades.
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Early Life and Training
Hockney was born in Bradford, West Yorkshire, in 1937. He was educated at Bradford Grammar School and Bradford College of Art before attending the Royal College of Art, London from 1959-1962.
At the Royal College of Art, Hockney was featured in Young Contemporaries, the exhibition which announced the arrival of British Pop art. Although associated with the movement, and central to the new explorations of colour in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s, Hockney’s early works fundamentally display expressionist elements, similar to the work of Francis Bacon.
In 1962, Hockney created the work Life Painting for a Diploma in protest against the College, after he was told he would not graduate before completing a female life drawing assignment. The artist also refused to write an essay required for the final examination, stating he should be assessed solely on his artworks. Recognising his talent and growing reputation, the RCA changed its regulations and awarded the diploma.
Hockney moved to Los Angeles in 1964, where he was inspired to make a series of paintings of swimming pools in vibrant colours, reflecting the atmosphere in which he found himself. The works produced often included portraits of Hockney’s friends and lovers and in 1967 Hockney’s painting, Peter Getting Out of Nick’s Pool, won the John Moores Painting Prize at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. The pool, in Hollywood, belonged to Los Angeles gallery owner Nicholas Wilder and the figure is Hockney’s then lover and muse, Peter Schlesinger. 1967 was a major year for the artist and also saw the creation of the work A Bigger Splash, demonstrating Hockney’s mounting faculty in painting the water and its associated properties.
The artist lived between Los Angeles, London, and Paris in the late 1960s to 1970s. Working in a largely naturalistic style until 1972, in the mid-1970s Hockney began exploring printmaking in collaboration with Aldo Crommelynck, Picasso’s preferred printer. The later 1970s also saw the beginning of the artist’s interaction with stage design, similarly influenced by Picasso as well as the work of Vincent Van Gogh, with Hockney designing sets for The Rake’s Progresss (1975) and The Magic Flute (1978) amongst other productions.
In the early 1980s, Hockney begun to produce photo collages, first using Polaroid and later commercially-processed colour prints to create composite works influenced by Cubism. The artist’s photocollages explore both portraiture and landscape, and anticipated a shift in the artist’s work towards digital photography and further investigation of digital media. In particular, Hockney received critical attention for a series of large-format landscapes of his native Yorkshire produced on an iPad and subsequently exhibited in the Royal Academy’s 2012 exhibition, A Bigger Picture. These works were the issue of paintings created by Hockney of the Yorkshire landscape in the 1990s, where Hockey initially painted from memories of his childhood, but latterly spend large periods of time working outdoors in both oils and watercolour to produce monumental composite works.
Selected Collections and Exhibitions
Hockney was a founder of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in 1979, and his work is now held in numerous public and private collections worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, and Tate, London.
Hockney’s exhibiting record is prolific, having been featured in over 400 solo exhibitions – including several major retrospectives – and over 500 group exhibitions since his first solo show at Paul Kasmin’s gallery in 1963. In May 2017, David Hockney – marking the artist’s 80th birthday – became the most visited exhibition ever presented at the Tate Britain, before travelling to the Centre Georges Pompidou and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In November 2018, Hockney’s 1972 work Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) – which features the painter Peter Schlesinger, Hockney’s former lover and muse, standing at the side of the pool, with the figure of John St Clair, one of Hockney’s assistants swimming underwater before him – became the most expensive work by a living artist ever sold at auction.
The artist lives and works between California, London and Yorkshire.