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Hockney: One of the world's greatest living artists

David Hockney: 60 Years of Work opens on the 9th February 2017 at Tate Britain and is the first retrospective of his work for almost thirty years. The exhibition traces the career of Hockney from sketches (the earliest being a self-portrait dated 1954) to present day, new and unseen paintings. Hockney, himself, provided ‘invaluable support’ in the creation of this, the largest exhibition ever staged by the Tate.

The first painting, Portrait Surrounded by Artistic Devices identifies the theme which runs throughout, namely Hockney’s interrogation of how we see the world and the optimum methods of capturing this experience in two dimensions. He appraises artistic devices, such as the use of single perspective (“OK, if you are a one-eyed Cyclops”), rejects abstract art in favour of a human focus and time and time again returns to the importance of drawing: rigorous looking underlies everything he does.

An early Hockney: Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)1972 Acrylic paint on canvas 2140 x 3048 mm Lewis Collection © David Hockney Photo Credit: Art Gallery of New South Wales / Jenni Carter

The first rooms house work that does not typify most people’s idea of Hockney’s style and it is not until Room 4: Sunbather that the audience comes face to face with the iconic Hockney A Bigger Splash. In this room, in an attempt to provide Los Angeles with a pictorial identity, Hockney’s paintings reflect the geometric architecture, flat surfaces and sunshine of his new home. Yet the borders of his work, intentionally left blank, acknowledge the artificiality of his surroundings. It is the last painting, The Room, Tarzana that points towards the focus for his next group of paintings, the double portraits, with their carefully staged compositions within enclosed settings. Room 5: Towards Naturalism captures the complex emotional nature of relationships in meticulously executed acrylic paintings. These vibrant images are near life-size and enable the spectator to usurp Hockney’s place and become part of his world, whilst their very perfection highlights his growing awareness that a naturalistic approach is in itself an artifice.

Hockney’s willingness to embrace new styles and media is highlighted as Close Looking (the area housing a selection of the drawings which are so fundamental to his work) is adjacent to A Bigger Photography, where he experiments with different methods of arranging photographs and creating collages in order to replicate the continually moving human eye. This concept is further explored as he Experiences Place and records his new surroundings in the Hollywood Hills using multiple perspective, thereby encouraging the eye to wander, as Hockney records his daily journey through the winding roads.

Billy + Audrey Wilder Los Angeles April 1982 Composite Polaroid 1117 x 1168 mm David Hockney Inc. (Los Angeles, US) © David Hockney, Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt

Hockney’s reverence for Nature is further evidenced in Room 10: The Woods, where the curators had the difficult task of capturing the essence of the RA exhibition of 2012 within one room. Large canvases depict the four seasons and bring rural Yorkshire to the centre of London in brilliant colour, prompting Hockney to consider once again how best to portray the world in a way that shares meaning. Again, the solution was to look ever more closely. To this end, he attached nine videos to his Landrover and recorded the Four Seasons, which is a mesmerising journey in pictorial form and time should be allowed to view these videos in their entirety.

The penultimate room houses a collection of 25 charcoal sketches of Yorkshire in 2013 (which raises the question of whether this choice of medium was a reflection of his growing sense of mortality?) adjacent to two sketches made in LA in 2016. These beautifully observed drawings, using a medium popular throughout history, are followed by a selection of works created on the most modern of media, the IPad. The creative process using digital media is more akin to painting, as these animated drawings identify the layering technique Hockney uses.

Garden with Blue Terrace 2015 Acrylic paint on canvas 1219 x 1828 mm Private collection © David Hockney

An innovator, who, aged 79, still paints every day, Hockney continues to experiment and refine his ability to communicate his ideas in ways to which all people can readily respond and it is for this reason that he is deservedly regarded as one of the world’s greatest living artists.


David Hockney

Tate Britain, London

9 February - 29 May 2017


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