A British artist who contributed to the 20th century Pop Art movement

By Jhupu Adhikari Mar 24 2013
Tags: Leisure Writing
A recent group exhibition that featured works of artists from Britain was covered in one of my earlier columns. Among the names that I had mentioned, was David Hockney whose work I have admired ever since I had the opportunity of seeing his solo exhibition at the Annely Juda Gallery in London in the 1990s. The exhibition featured over 20 portraits and an equal number of still life studies of vases and flowers.

David Hockney, born on July 9 in Bradford in England, is considered ‘one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century’. During his training at the Royal College of Art in London, Hockney featured in an exhibition titled ‘Young Contemporaries’ and along with Peter Blake, the exhibition was hailed as the ‘arrival of British Pop Art.’ While Hockney was certainly a contributor to the ‘Pop Art’ movement, his earlier paintings show clear traces of expressionism. When the Royal Academy refused to let him graduate in 1962, Hockney drew a sketch titled ‘The Diploma’, as a form of protest. The story goes that Hockney refused to write an essay required for the final examination, insisting that his assessment should only be on art. By this time, Hockney had quite a fan following and the Academy finally had to change its regulations and award a diploma.

With such a reputation, it is but to be expected that Hockney would choose to live life in his own way. On a visit to California, where he later chose to settle for long periods, he was inspired to do a series of paintings of swimming pools in the 1960s, using acrylic, a comparatively new medium in those days. In 1961, Hockney explored the nature of gay love in ‘We Two Boys Together Clinging’, after a poem by Walt Whitman and in 1963, painted ‘Domestic Scene, Los Angeles’ showing two men -- one showering while the other washes his back.

Hockney is said to have been born with ‘Synesthesia’ -- whereby he can see colours while listening to music. This made him a highly suitable person for creating backdrops and décor for ballets and operas at La Scala and the New York Metropolitan Opera. The colours that he sees through ‘musical stimuli’ are a base for his construction of the stage sets for ballets and operas where the colours and lighting are created while listening to the music of the piece he is working on.

Hockney returned more frequently to Yorkshire in the 1990s, usually every three months to visit his mother who died in 1999. He then decided to capture the local sights based on boyhood memories. But by 2005, he was painting the countryside first in water colours and later in oils. He created paintings made of multiple smaller canvases placed together -- a style that is often used by artists of today. In June 2007, Hockney’s largest painting titled ‘Bigger Trees Near Warter’ measuring 15 feet by 40 feet, was hung in the Royal Academy’s largest gallery during its annual summer exhibition.

Since 2009, Hockney has painted hundreds of portraits, still lifes and landscapes on iPhone and iPad. His show Fresh Flowers featuring more than 100 of his drawings was held in 2010 at La Fondation Pierre Bergé in Paris, followed in 2011 by another at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

Hockney, whose first one-man show was in 1963 when he was 26 years old, has had many retrospectives devoted to his work. In 1970, the first of several major retrospectives, which opened in London, travelled to three European institutions. In October 2006, the National Portrait Gallery in London organised one of the largest ever displays of his work, from over five decades. In 2009, “David Hockney: Just Nature” was held at the Kunsthalle Würth in Germany. From January 21, 2012 to April 9, 2012, the Royal Academy presented ‘A Bigger Picture’, which included more than 150 works, many of which covered entire walls. Dedicated to images of Yorkshire, along with oils, there were 50 drawings on iPad printed on paper. The exhibition moved on to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain and later to the Ludwik Museum in Cologne, Germany where it closed on February 3 this year.

In 2008, David Hockney decided to donate ‘Bigger Trees Near Warter’ to the Tate Gallery in London and was quoted as having said, “I thought if I’m going to give something to the Tate I want to give them something really good.”