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David Hockney has had an incredible career since rising to prominence in the mid-20th century. Credited above all with helping to shape Britain’s Pop Art movement in the 1960s, Hockney skilfully conveyed his own distinct style across a variety of formats – portraiture, landscape painting, printmaking, photography, and more recently illustrations using an iPad.
In his time as a cultural figurehead and influence of new, emerging artists, his work has been displayed in museums and galleries around the globe from London’s National Portrait Gallery to Washington DC’s Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Here, we’ll give you a snapshot of one of the most celebrated artists of the past 100 years, and how his work has gone on to inspire millions of fellow artists worldwide.
David Hockney knew he wanted to be an artist from the age of 11, and this goal led him to enrolling at the Bradford School of Art in 1953, followed by the Royal College of Art in London. During the time Hockney graduated from Bradford College with a first-class diploma, he sold his first painting – ‘Portrait of My Father’, which was displayed at Leeds Art Gallery. Some short years later, in 1961, his work was displayed in a ground-breaking exhibition called ‘Young Contemporaries’ alongside the work of fellow art student Peter Blake. This was the first time British Pop Art exploded onto the UK’s art scene and challenged critics’ perception of ‘fine art’.
Even in college, David Hockney was a strong believer in letting his creative work do the talking rather than explaining it in words. In 1962, he was required to paint a life model and write an assignment on his work in order to graduate from the RCA. In protest, Hockney decided to paint ‘Life Painting for a Diploma’.
Life Painting for a Diploma, 1962
Refusing to write the essay that his graduation depended on, Hockney thought he should be examined purely on the quality of his art and not its explanation. By that time his reputation was growing rapidly and his talent more than evident, which left the RCA with no choice but to reverse award Hockney a diploma.
In 1964, David Hockney moved to the US, specifically Los Angeles, where he felt free to express the person who truly was. He began to take in the bright colours of California, and these made their way into his art. This is where he developed an interest in polaroid photography, capturing scenery, life and most famously swimming pools in LA. Many of his most famous pieces were created around this period, including 1967’s ‘A Bigger Splash’.
A Bigger Splash, 1967
Despite the glamour and drastic change of setting, Hockney never lost interest in his first discipline, portraiture. And it was towards the late 1960s when Hockney started to create double portraits that were heralded not only for their realism, but the relationship between the subjects and his perception of their relationship as illustrated. In 1972, David Hockney produced perhaps his best known work, which fused his signature themes of swimming pools and double portraits. Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) depicts a male figure swimming under water and Hockney’s former lover, the painter Peter Schlesinger.
Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), 1972
Set in St. Tropez, France, the painting was first sold for $18,000. However, in November 2018 it attracted headlines for being the highest price ever paid for a painting by a living artist, having sold for just over $90 million. Though this record has since been broken again, it is testament to how revered David Hockney’s work remains to this day, and in particular the influence of Californian life on his creativity.
As well as his iconic landscapes and depictions of sun-kissed swimming pools, portraits have been another big focus for David Hockney throughout his career. Though he rarely accepted commissions, preferring to paint friends, family members and people he asked to sit for him. In the late 60s moving into the 1970s, Hockney developed a fascination with double portraits, painting couples, friends and even his parents, together in the same painting. These works have much to say about the relationship of the subjects painted, as well as Hockney’s perception of those relationships.
My Parents and Myself, 1975
Not only did these creations tell a story about their subjects, but Hockney also began to reference his other pieces and even incorporate self-portraits into them. In his painting ‘My Parents and Myself’, at the centre of the painting is an angled mirror that reflects back to Hockney himself. Two years later, in 1977, Hockney painted one of his seminal portraits, ‘My Parents’.
My Parents, 1977
In this somewhat revised piece, the mirror in the centre reflects two of his earlier creations, and the eagle-eyed viewer can see one of those paintings depicted as ‘My Parents and Myself’. This idea of an artwork within an artwork became a staple feature of Hockney’s style in that period, until the late 1980s when Hockney’s portraits became less balanced and precise and more focused on riotous colour, wavy lines, and stark contrast.
In 2003, David Hockney’s sister Margaret began to experiment with computer printing, scanning and digital photography, building up digital images and bringing them to life with an A3 printer. A year later, when Hockney stayed with his sister, she taught him how to use Photoshop and helped scan his sketchbook of Yorkshire landscapes and scenery. This was when he started using a stylus and graphics tablet as a new medium, illustrating directly into Photoshop.
iPad Drawing No. 778
Not long after the iPhone and iPad were first released, David Hockney turned his skill towards painting portraits, landscapes and still life's using the Brushes app on his phone and tablet, creating countless works in this format. Influenced by his earlier work creating multi-panel outdoor landscapes, Hockney later branched into film, creating movies using up to eighteen cameras to record a single scene or landscape, creating large moving images across multiple scenes. Much like his multi-panel landscapes, these cameras recorded the same scene in different seasons and were later ‘stitched together’ in a similar way, challenging the viewer to explore the subtle details.
When his early film work was first displayed in an exhibition at the the Royal Academy of Art in 2011, Hockney said, “Most people glance or scan but don't look. I love looking, I get intense pleasure from my eyes. There's a lot of blindness. I'm not sure television has made people look very hard. I always thought television couldn't show you the beauty of the landscape because it can't show you space that well. The enjoyment of landscape is a spatial thrill."
Hockney’s film work sought to challenge his own preconception and succeeded in translating that ‘spatial thrill’ from his monumental landscape paintings into another form. And, while he may have been a leading figure in the art world for over 60 years, his boundary-pushing work continues to this day.Love what you see? Add a dash of Hockney’s signature style to your home from Art Republic’s collection of David Hockney Prints. Or explore other pop art ideas for your next art piece collection for your home.