David Hockney: more than pool pictures
NEW YORK – David Hockney is synonymous with paintings of swimming pools, but throughout his career he has utilized many techniques and styles in creating art and his subject matter interests have ranged from landscapes to portraits. While celebrated as a painter, he is also a talented draftsman, printmaker, photographer and stage designer. From his double-portraits in the early 1960s, which gave way to swimming pools and California landscapes later that decade to rarely shown photographic collages in the 1980s and more recent iPad drawings printed on paper, the artist is known for bold and colorful works encompassing varied media.
Considered one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Hockney was born in Bradford, England and has long maintained homes and studios in London and California, which inspires much of his artwork.
In early 2020, London’s National Portrait Gallery opened “David Hockney: Drawing from Life,” the first major exhibition of the artist’s works in two decades. The exhibition explored how drawing is integral to the manner in which Hockney (b, 1937) processes the world through his art and experiments with new techniques and concepts that later make their way into paintings. One art style seems to lead to another, creating a chain of sorts in his oeuvre.
“Drawing from Life” explores Hockney as a draughtsman from the 1950s to now by focusing on his depictions of himself and a small group of sitters close to him: his friend, Celia Birtwell; his mother, Laura Hockney; his curator, Gregory Evans, and master printer, Maurice Payne,” according to a press release on the exhibition.
The exhibition includes new and early works that have not been publicly shown before. The exhibition was scheduled to travel to other museums, including the Morgan Library & Museum in New York.
Among his most well-collected paintings are his California-inspired works, especially those of pools. The David Hockney Foundation website notes in its chronology for the artist that Hockney found endless inspiration in California’s landscape, both natural and man-made. Swimming pools were a favorite motif during the 1960s, where Hockney explored the reflective quality of pools and its interplay with sunlight. “He continues to be mesmerized, as his work attests, by that city’s swimming pools and other glistening surfaces,” according to the foundation website.
Hockney’s paintings routinely bring solid prices on the art market and it should come as no surprise little surprise that his sun-dazzled pool paintings are among the most desirable.
Hockney’s self-portrait, one of many, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), 1972, set a new auction record in November 2018 for the most expensive painting by a living artist. It sold at Christie’s New York for $90 million. In February 2020, Sotheby’s London held a contemporary art evening auction that was led by The Splash, a 1966 acrylic, selling for over $28 million. The latter painting was made near the start of Hockney’s California era, which is marked by his California Dreaming series, where he began using acrylic paints.
While portraits and his California scenes are famous for being avidly sought after by collectors, Hockney’s landscapes are also notable, even ones not associated with West Coast locales. In February 2020, William Bunch Auctions & Appraisals in Chadds Ford, Pa., sold an English landscape from the 1950s, Kirton, an oil on board, well over its high estimate for $75,000.
“In the 1950s, Hockney painted landscapes around Suffolk County before discovering abstract expressionism, which had a profound influence on his artistic visions,” according to the auctioneer’s catalog notes for this painting. Still a teenager at this time, Hockney and fellow artist John Loker were known to have spent some time around Kirton in 1957, on their way to Constable, to paint or sketch local scenes en plein air. They were often seen riding around the countryside on their bicycles.
In his native Bradford, where he was born, he is so revered that Bradford Museums & Galleries, whose art collection likely intrigued and inspired the artist-to-be as a child, officially opened up its David Hockney Gallery in July 2017 as part of Cartwright Hall.
Jill Iredale, curator of fine arts at Bradford Museums & Galleries, wrote in a blog a month later about the intimate look the new gallery offers and its rare insights. “It provides examples of the different medium he has used and introduces some of the recurring themes in his work, and it gives an insight into his family life through his personal photograph albums—albums that have never been seen in public before,” she wrote.
From his self-portraits to depictions of family and people in his inner circle to idyllic landscapes and color-saturated scenes, Hockney’s works continue to fascinate viewers. In more than 60 years of making art, he has made many memorable pictures, playing with the elasticity of space and time as well as texture, color and light.