“David Hockney” is a retrospective exhibit of the works of David Hockney. It has previously been at the Tate Britain in London and the Pompidou Center in Paris. We saw it at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Britain's best known living artist, David Hockney was born in Yorkshire in England in 1937. After studying art in Bradford, he moved to London in 1959 to study at the Royal College of Art where he achieved a reputation as a superstar. A trip to Southern California in 1964 resulted in a lifelong fascination with California where he has lived on and off for 50 years. Now 80, Hockney continues to produce art each day.
The exhibition presents 60 canvases, 21 portrait drawings and a number of other examples of his work arranged in eight galleries. They are grouped roughly in chronologist order.
A retrospective exhibition allows the viewer to survey the artist's body of work and learn something about the artist that you cannot learn by just viewing an individual work.
For example, although Hockney achieved success at an early age, he did not just stick with that winning formula. Rather, the exhibition shows a willingness to experiment with different ideas.
But this does not mean that he abandoned everything when he moved from one idea to another. To illustrate, Hockney's early work was abstract. Abstraction was the style that the art establishment endorsed in the early 1960s and so it is not surprising that a young artist of that era would do that type of work. On the surface, Hockney would seem to have abandoned abstraction in favor of a more figurative style when he progressed to his California swimming pool works (probably his most famous works). But, his use of geometric shapes (i.e. rectangles) in those pictures recalls Modernist thinking. Still later, his landscapes have the flavor of artists such as Picasso and Matisse, not only in the choice of colors but in the use of shapes.
We also see Hockney's predominant form of work move from abstraction to realistic genre scenes, to portraits to landscapes. With regard to portraits, the exhibit presents both examples of his famous double portraits and examples of portrait drawings. The double portraits are on a monumental scale and the figures seem to be isolated with invisible defensive walls separating them from each other. The portrait drawings are smaller and more revealing of the sitters' personalities. The walls are down.
Yet another characteristic that comes through in the exhibit is Hockney's willingness to experiment with different media. He is best known as a painter, first using oils but then becoming one of the foremost users of acrylics. However, he has also experimented with watercolor, etchings, photography, photocopiers, fax machines and more recently digital art. In fact, the exhibit has three examples of works that he did on iPads.
Rich Wagner is a writer, photographer and artist.