David Hockney

“We live in an age where the artist is forgotten. He is a researcher. I see myself that way.”

David Hockney

David Hockney (1937)

A famous English painter, printmaker, photographer and stage designer, David Hockney is perhaps the most popular and versatile British artist of the 20th century.

Hockney's subsequent development was a continuation of his student work, which was initially regarded by critics as part of the wave of Pop art that emanated from the Royal College of Art, although a significant change in his approach occurred after his move to California at the end of 1963. Even before moving there he had painted Domestic Scene, Los Angeles, an image of two men in a shower based partly on photographs found in a homosexual magazine. It is clear that when he moved to that city it was, at least in part, in search of the fantasy that he had formed of a sensual and uninhibited life of athletic young men, swimming pools, palm trees and perpetual sunshine. Undoubtedly Hockney's popularity can be attributed not simply to his visual wit and panache but also to this appeal to our own escapist instincts.

On his arrival in California, Hockney changed from oil to acrylic paints, applying them as a smooth surface of flat and brilliant colour that helped to emphasize the pre-eminence of the image. He was particularly successful in a series of double portraits of friends, for example Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (1970–71; London, Tate), later voted the most popular modern painting in the Tate Gallery. While some of the paintings of this period appear stilted and lifeless in their reliance on photographic sources, Hockney excelled in his drawings from life, particularly in the pen-and-ink portraits executed in a restrained and elegant line. It is as a draughtsman and graphic artist that Hockney's reputation is most secure.

Hockney's originality as a printmaker was apparent by the time he produced A Rake's Progress, a series of 16 etchings conceived as a contemporary and autobiographical version of William Hogarth's visual narrative. Hockney's large body of graphic work, concentrating on etching and lithography, in itself assured him an important place in modern British art, and in series inspired by literary sources such as Illustrations for Fourteen Poems from C. P. Cavafy (1967.), Illustrations for Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm (1969) and The Blue Guitar (1977), he did much to revive the tradition of the livre d'artiste.

Hockney's work for the stage since 1975 brought out his essential inventiveness and helped free him of the ultimately stultifying constraints of his naturalistic mode. His most notable designs included productions at the Glyndebourne Opera Festival of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress in 1975 and of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte in 1978, and at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, of Ravel's L'Enfant et les sortilèges, as well as other French works in 1980 and a Stravinsky triple-bill in 1981. These were followed by other ambitious designs, for example for Wagner's Tristan and Isolda ( Los Angeles Opera, 1987), for Puccini's Turandot at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1992, and for Strauss's Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in 1992.

The example of Picasso, especially after his death in 1973, was also an important factor in Hockney's return to the stylistic gamesmanship that distinguished him as a student. His obsessiveness, energy and curiosity resulted in large bodies of work in different media, including the Paper Pools and other pulped paper works of 1978, as well as experiments with polaroid and 35 mm photography. His restless desire for innovation was vividly manifested in the series of Very New Paintings initiated in 1992, in which he gave almost abstract form to his experience of the Pacific coastline and the Santa Monica mountains as an intoxicating succession of plunging perspectives, dazzling views, brilliant light and intense color. Hockney's identification with Picasso, Matisse and other modern masters has been viewed with suspicion by those who think his motives cynical and self-promoting. Such an interpretation, however, seems foreign to an artist whose ambition was consistently to claim for his work a range and openness rare for his generation.

In 2006 the LACMA Museum in Los Angeles and the National Portrait Gallery in London organized one of the largest ever displays of Hockney's portraiture work, including 150 of his paintings, drawings, prints, sketchbooks and photocollages from over the course of five decades. The collection consisted of his earliest self-portraits up into his latest work completed in 2005. The exhibition proved to be one of the most successful in the museums’ history, and Hockney himself assisted in displaying the works.

In June 2007, Hockney's largest painting, Bigger Trees Near Warter, which measures 15 x 40-foot, was hung in the Royal Academy's largest gallery in their annual Summer Exhibition. This work is a monumental-scale view of a coppice in Hockney's native Yorkshire, between Bridlington and York, to where the artist moved permanently. It was painted on 50 individual canvases, mostly working in situ, over five weeks.

In 2008, he donated this work to the Tate Gallery in London, saying: "I thought if I'm going to give something to the Tate I want to give them something really good. It's going to be here for a while. I don't want to give things I'm not too proud of...I thought this was a good painting because it's of England...it seems like a good thing to do”.

Since 2009, Hockney has painted hundreds of portraits, still lifes, and Yorkshire landscapes using the brushes, iPhone and iPad application.

Many of Hockney's works are now housed in a converted industrial building called Salts Mill, in Saltaire, near his home town of Bradford.

The artist lives and works in Yorkshire, England and Los Angeles.