David Hockney

In addition to his photographs and individual art shows, versatile artist David Hockney (born 1937) has also produced work as a painter, graphic artist, stage designer, and writer.

Aself-taught artist, David Hockney is best known for his captivating photographs and individual art shows that display his work. Hockney has worked also as an independent painter, graphic artist, and stage designer. Hockney's reputation as a genuinely original and powerful artist is secure even though his work continues to push the boundaries of public perception and critical opinions. Although much of his work is considered "user-friendly" and tasteful, thereby considered modernist, Hockney has the ability to shock. Hockney's uncanny ability to navigate the tides of public opinions and perceptions of him has provided him with a reputation that is not only accepting of criticism, but incorporates such criticism into future works. He has taught as an art instructor at a variety of schools, including the University of Iowa, the University of Colorado, the University of California at Los Angeles, and the University of California at Berkeley. Hockney was awarded an honorary degree in 1988 from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. Although considered by some critics to be a lightweight, Hockney continues to prove his versatility through teaching and writing as well as his skill through painting to create works of an accomplished artist.

Introduction to Art

David Hockney was born in Bradford, Yorkshire, England on July 9, 1937. Hockney admired the likes of Picasso, Dufy, Matisse, and Fragonard. He tried to utilize their techniques in his "impressionistic" photographs which later lead to paintings. Hockney's parents, Kenneth and Laura Hockney, allowed their son early on to explore the world around him and have the freedom and mobility to interpret what he saw in way that pleased him. This freedom of expression enabled the young Hockney to not only gain admittance to the Bradford Grammar Art School Society, but he received his first recognition there as well. At eleven years of age, Hockney's work was characterized by happiness in images such as a wave cresting against the shore, a kiss, or a drop of water. The young Hockney believed that life's simple pleasures were often not adequately imitated in art; that in the rush of people's existence they often failed to notice the simplicity and serenity of the world around them. Hockney believed he could reproduce these images through his art and thereby provide people with some of the pleasures they may have overlooked. Hockney felt his work would help people realize that play and its enjoyment in and of itself was serious work.

Formal Schooling and Influences

In addition to the Bradford Grammar School of Art, Hockney attended the Bradford College of Art between the years 1953 and 1957. He later attended the Royal College of Art in London, England, from 1959 until 1962. Even with the extensive formal training and education, Hockney's style was essentially acquired through self instruction. He was especially talented in the area of photography and learned his skill with constant practice and dedication beginning in 1962. Hockney's early exposure to art as well as the work he produced while training was considered to be largely conservative, thereby making it pleasurable to look at.

It is a widely held belief among those in the art world that Hockney's meeting with the modern artist Jacob Kramer in Leeds and the viewing of Alan Davie's exhibition in Wakfield in 1958 pushed Hockney towards the type of work that is considered avant-garde and identified him more with the pop artists of the late sixties. Alan Davie went on to hold a considerable influence over Hockney. This influence is dramatically represented by a series of abstract expressionists canvases that Hockney produced during his first year at the Royal College of the Arts.

That year, 1959, Hockney joined a small group of other young, experimental artists that included the likes of Peter Blake and Allen Jones. Another individual that tremendously affected Hockney and held considerable influence over the work produced by Hockney was American artist R. B. Kitaj. Kitaj's work was of commonplace scenes as well as contemporary people and events. Almost simplistic at first notice, Kitaj's work evolved into much more detail the more it was viewed. While Kitaj's work discreetly affected the British Pop Art movement, it profoundly affected Hockney. Hockney's keen awareness of the times around him is directly attributed, in many critic's opinions, to Kitaj.

Hockney developed the ability to take an ordinary scene and develop it through photographs and paint into something incredibly pleasing to view. The ability to develop such scenes immediately earned Hockney a place among contemporary artists of his time. Although not considered a master yet, his work was certainly begin to demonstrate the signs. A second American artist that influenced Hockney was Robert Rauschenberg. Rauschenberg's compositions also lead Hockney in becoming more aware of his surroundings and how such surroundings could be propelled into lasting art. These influences, along with Hockney's own indescribable tastes, allowed Hockney the rare privilege to experiment with his work, while still growing to become a serious artist.

Hockney's Arrival

David Hockney was able to combine his formidable knowledge relating to the history of art and its techniques with a very unusual insight or sensitivity to the contemporary visual currents. He was able to produce what the public wanted at the time, or more specifically, Hockney was able to create exactly what the art connoisseur thought he wanted. Regardless of the critics' interpretations, Hockney developed this keen sense and ability (along with his love of publicity, that at times has been considered flagrant opportunism by his challengers) into an art world marvel that has kept him on the forefront of the American and British art scenes.

Hockney arrived in the professional art world on the coattails of the 1960s and the world's fascination with Pop Art. Hockney was able to manipulate his innate skill as a photographer and his learned ability to paint and combined them into something that, while not new, took people by surprise. For example, Hockney would take two, sometimes more, photographs of the same image but from different vantage points, thereby changing the actual image only slightly. However, by combining the photos, Hockney created a distinct and well-integrated work. The idea of a photographic collage, while not new, provided Hockney with a new medium to capitalize on. Even though other artists such as Rejlander and Muybridge had done similar work to Hockney's, they had not attempted it on the same scale. Such ability earned Hockney the 1985 Infinity Award. This achievement is awarded to an artist in any media that utilizes photography.

Hockney's Ideas

For Hockney, the ability to capture ideas came easily. He possessed an insight that illuminated for him the hidden beauty in the person walking down the street or the poem written a hundred years ago. Hockney pulled ideas for art from everywhere. Some of his more significant sources, artists in their own right, included Paul Klee, Jean Dubuffet, and Francis Bacon. Hockney also admired William Blake. Blake's poetry provided Hockney with vivid imagery that he transferred with great success to canvas, but never showed publicly. Hockney did, however, produce and show several works based on the works of Walt Whitman. One such work, the 1961 etching Myself and My Heroes, depicted Hockney along with Whitman and Mahatma Gandhi. Quotations from Whitman are prevalent throughout Hockney's work. Hockney was able to use the words of Whitman to more clearly express the abstract and ambiguity in art. Such situations arose, according to Hockney, when a artist lacked skill or was confused.

Hockney drew ideas from fairy tales as well. Some of his more renowned work comes from his etchings of tales by the Brothers Grimm. His 1969 one-person show at the Kasmin featured etchings made up largely of six of the Grimm's tales. The completion of this particular work and show fulfilled a lifelong dream of Hockney's; he had even taken a boat trip on the Rhine from Mainz to Cologne so as to be able to capture the atmosphere and vividness of the tales.

Contemporary Hockney

By the early 1970s, Hockney had moved on to more realistic and conventional paintings. Increasingly inspired by Balthus, Edward Hopper, and Giorgio Morandi, Hockney's work became less and less influenced by literature. This move was well received by critics. While Hockney's work is physically larger than what he used to produce, his later work exemplified post-painterly abstraction in a combination with minimalism. Such a combination allowed Hockney to move even closer to a permanence within the art world. Hockney's work has been displayed internationally.

No longer does Hockney have to contend with accusations of not being a true artist. Hockney has not only proven his versatility in art but in other areas as well. He has published an extensive number of books and screenplays, worked as a set and costume stage designer, and has made numerous television and film appearances. Hockney has been awarded numerous honors, including the Guinness Award and the 1991 Praemium Imperiale from the Japan Art Association. Although Hockney was first identified with late Pop Art, he has transcended that label to become one of the few internationally known and lasting artists to come out of the 1960s.

Further Reading on David Hockney

Smith, Roberta, "From the Heart and Hand of David Hockney, " in New York Times, April 3, 1996, p. B1.

Peppiatt, Michael, "Sunshine Superman, " in Town & Country Monthly, April 1996, p. 43.

Glover, Michael, "David Hockney, " in ARTnews, April 1996, p. 143.

Luckhardt, Urlich, and Melia, Paul, "A Drawing Retrospective, " in David Hockney, Chronicle Books, 1996.

Webb, Peter, Portrait of David Hockney, Dutton, 1st American edition, 1988.

Livingstone, Marco, David Hockney, 1st American edition, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1981.

Knewstub, John, and Maurice Rothenstein, Modern English Painters, St. Martin's Press, 1952, 1974.