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David Hockney celebrates the beauty of the world

Do you live in Paris, London or Brussels? David Hockney’s exhibitions are waiting for you!

If you don’t have time to go to one of these capitals, or simply want to know the artist better, read these thoughts.

In the absence of photos – since it is forbidden to take them and even use any reproduction at all – I share with you links, videos and some themes that inspired the artist.

And to complete this article I read « Spring cannot be cancelled » by David Hockney and Martin Gayford. A fascinating read! It sheds light on his work, his motivations, the continuity of his projects and how they fit in the history of art. All this in a lively and richly illustrated dialogue.

If you are a faithful reader of this blog, you know my admiration for this great colorist. Challenge #6 evokes his work on swimming pools — the inspiration of my first tapestry; as for challenge #8, it shows his influence in contemporary comics. Besides, in challenge #14, I am referring to his work as Hockney “dares pink” which is exactly the challenge.

Here is a small overview of some exhibitions — of which I have seen the first two — and the spotlight on the career of this immense artist. What an abundance! Judge for yourselves: at 84 years old, David Hockney’s creativity does not falter. What else can he do but work? It is his way of celebrating the beauty of the world.

Two exhibitions at BOZAR

Until January 2022, for the price of one exhibition, the visitor has the opportunity to see two. The first is a retrospective of his work and the second is his recent project to depict spring in Normandy.

The Tate Modern Collection (1954-2017)

First Exhibition: Works from the Tate Collection 1954 – (right, photograph of the exhibition poster)

This first exhibition gives an overview of David Hockney’s work from 1954 to 2017 in four rooms; you will see paintings, prints and lithographs from the Tate Modern. It’s an opportunity to trace the artist’s evolution and discover his favorite themes expressed through various media.

Homosexuality, the beauty of the masculine body, the representation of space, time, movement, the play of light and transparency as well as the beauty of nature appear to me as some of the red threads weaving his work. Last but not least, couples and portraits.

Crush of heart

Three major and large paintings are included:”Man in shower in Bevery Hills (1964), “Mr. and Mrs Clark and Percy” (1970) and “My Parents” (1977). A pleasure to see them in real life, in big size!

And then there is also the very impressive Bigger Trees Near Warter (2007). Impressive especially by its size and by its process of creation. Indeed, for its realization Hockney made multiple trips to the English countryside and his studio in Bridlington, drawing and painting “on the motive”, then, in the studio, finishing one or another painting or conceiving the whole work digitally. In total a scene of 12.2 m x 4.6 m composed of 50 paintings! A video on the conception of this work is available here (click on the thumbnail entitled “Making of Bigger Trees Near Warter“).

The Beginnings

David Hockney had his first commercial success while still a student at the Bradford School of Art. It was a painting of his father from 1955 (see here in the middle of the page). David was not a hoarder; he invested this money in his first trip to America, which he recorded in a series of prints entitled “A Rake’s Progress“. This series was inspired by a story in 8 engravings (with the same name) made in the 18th century by William Hogarth. Clearly, Hockney considers himself a contemporary libertine. Remember that at that time, in the early sixties, homosexuality was still considered a mental illness. In fact, Horgarth’s last engraving is entitled “The Madhouse“.

William Hogarth, “A Rake’s Progress”. Top, plate 3, “The Orgy”; bottom, plate 8, “The Madhouse”, the inspiration for David Hockney’s series of engravings with the same title, made between 1961 and 1963 (source Wiki commons).

The prints in Hockney’s series are in black and white, with a more or less pronounced red accent. In The arrival where the artist represents himself, some will see a phallic sign in the graphics of the buildings, others simply the emblem of New York.

On the site of the Tate you will also see these: Meeting the Good People“, The Gospel Singing, “The Drinking Scene“, “Marries an Old Maid“, “Viewing a Prison Scene“, “The Wallet Begins to empty“, “Death in Harlem“, “Cast Aside“, and “Meeting the Other People“.

Los Angeles

The Californian atmosphere of Los Angeles, its bright sunshine, its wide open spaces, its modern architecture, all of this can be found in the paintings of this period. Hockney’s fascination with the male body is also evident. And his interest in questions of representation too.

How to render transparency? Water in motion? Reflections in the pool? Try this exciting challenge yourself. The exhibition offers original solutions found by Hockney: “Man in the shower” and “Peter coming out of Nick’s pool“.

This work will mark the contemporary painting, adding a very personal touch to a classical theme in the history of art. The bath is indeed a subject of predilection for the painters; an occasion to account for the beauty of the bodies, in movement or at rest, the attitudes and the colors of skin, the effects of direct, diffuse or reflected light, any situation made marvelous by the presence of water.

The bath in painting

Below are several examples of treatments of the same subject by artists from different periods and cultures.

Standing or lying body, reflections or atmosphere, man or woman, the bath is a fascinating subject. Edward Munch, “Man bathing” (1918) (source Wikimedia ); Pierre Bonnard, “Nude in the bath” (1941-1946) (source Wikimedia commons).
On the left, Gustave Caillebotte, “Man Wiping his Leg” (1884) (source: Wikimedia commons). On the right, Wayne Thiebaud, “Woman in the Bathtub” (1965) (source: Sothebys)
Hans von Faber du Faur “In the bathhouse(source: Wikimedia commons);; Jansson, Eugène Frederik “Naval Baithhouse(1907) (source: Wikimedia commons)
The bath and water transparency; paintings of Yuki Ogura (1938) (source ) and of Antonio Lopez Garcia (1968) (source ).

Swimming pools inspire David Hockney. He paints them, draws them, engraves them, photographs them, displays them on any support. Each technique reveals its specificity in capturing the subject; he then exploits it until it is exhausted. For example, here, he colors the paper in the mass. There, the photograph is no longer a simple cliché but a complex collage (click on the 4th image).

The naturalism of the double-portraits

The years 68-77 saw the creation of life-size double-portraits. They are staged in such a way that the viewer has the impression of sharing the space of the couples represented.

Hockney used photography extensively to construct his paintings. Could the “naturalism” that is often attributed to the works of those years come from this process? However, the paintings also have a dreamlike dimension, a strangeness. And despite the presence of characters, a sense of absence seems to hover in the space.

The photographs and drawings that led to the double-portrait « Shirley Goldfarb et Gregory Masurovsky » reflect this process of creation (see the set here at the bottom of the page).

Although depicted as a couple, they hardly suggest communication. Look at « Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott » (1968-69), « American Collectors (Fred & Marcia Weisman) » (1968) , « Mr. and Mrs Clark and Percy  » (1970) , « My Parents » (1977), or even « Portrait of an artist (Pool with two Figures) » (1972). This is a far cry from Matisse’s conversation (below) which, while the painting has a very similar composition, suggests dialogue.

Henri Matisse, “Conversation” (1908-1912) (source: Wikipedia)

The portrait – simple this time – will remain one of David Hockney’s favorite subjects. Between 2012 and 2015 he produced a large series of them, all on the same model and each made in 3 days.

Representation of space and moving focus

The representation of space has always fascinated David Hockney. But photography does not account for our perception of space. We do not see like a camera! First of all, the field of view is different. For example, a wide angle lens offers a vision that is too wide. As for the 50 mm, if it is close to the focal length of our eye, it does not offer us a more “accurate” vision. So it’s not just a question of focal length.

Cubist inspiration
Pablo Picasso. Left, “Nude” (1909) (Source: WikiArt) ; right “Bather” (1908) (Source: WikiArt)

Also, to explore space, David Hockney follows in the footsteps of Picasso. By presenting several points of view on the same canvas, the cubist painter thwarts the constraints imposed on the photographer.

But David Hockney the photographer gets around this difficulty; he captures his subject from different angles and assembles the photographs into collages. This invention also allows him to represent the passing of time. In short, to mix space and time in a unique work.

In the video below he explains the process of elaboration of these photographic collages.

David Hockney develops the creative process of his photographic collages and the back and forth from photography to drawing
Rejecting traditional perspective

The introduction of perspective in Western painting brought about a fundamental change in the representation of space. Yet it is not universal.

Indeed, the cavalier perspective (see below), already mentioned in the challenge dedicated to the color of the shadow, does not present a vanishing point; it has the advantage of not stopping the eye, and therefore makes it easier to unfold a story through a visual scan. This is why it was favored by the Orientals in painted scrolls or screens.

Note that time and space are also present in the two illustrations below.

Detail of a scroll illustrating the biography of Priest Ippen; notice the absence of vanishing point due to the use of cavalier perspective (the full 7 Ippen shonin eden scroll is on Wiki commons )
Left side of a Japanese screen relating the arrival of the Portuguese around 1606 and also using the cavalier perspective (source: Wiki commons)
Space, Time and Narrative

In the paintings of the 1980s, David Hockney integrates his reflections on time and space. In Large Interior, Los Angeles” (1988), the viewer walks through the painting as if in his own memory. No central perspective. No fixed space.

Paintings from the Acatlan Hotel, also on view in the exhibition, are emblematic of this “moving focus” series. One thinks of Art Brut or children’s drawings where the absence of traditional perspective reveals an original and personal perception. Or even a theater set.

At this time, screens such as “Carebbean Tea-Time, reminiscent of Matisse’s paper cut-outs, were also created.

Henri Matisse, paper cuts. On the left, “The Sadness of the King” (1952); on the right, “The Beasts of the Sea” (1952) (source WikiArt)

An opinion on this retrospective

The visitor will certainly be delighted by this rich and dense retrospective. Certainly, more photographic collages, more swimming pools, more explanatory texts or only the possibility to photograph would fill him more.

Spring in Normandy

Second exhibition: The Arrival of Spring,(left, photograph of the exhibition poster)

The second exhibition takes you to Normandy, where Hockney set out to describe the arrival of spring, presented here in 116 paintings.

Norman inspiration

In Normandy, David Hockney never fails to contemplate the Bayeux tapestry. Once again, it is a question of space, time and narrative. This story links England, the artist’s homeland, and France, dear to his heart.

Below is a detail of the tapestry, the whole of which can be seen here. Note again that it has neither vanishing point nor shadow. The process is therefore ideal to tell this epic. David Newton does not fail to do so by animating it, in the following video.

Beginning of Bayeux tapestry. (Source: Wiki commons for the whole tapestry)
David Newton, animation of the Bayeux tapestry.

Notice the similarity between the tapestry and the frieze “Around the House, Winter, even in the tones used. And it is again the same principle that Hockney used to describe the environment around his Norman house, as you will see later.

Previous painters in the background

Normandy is also the birthplace of Impressionism. Giverny, Monet’s domain, is not far away, and in tackling the French spring, Hockney knows that the comparison with Monet will be obvious. Perhaps it is in the water lilies that the two painters most closely resemble each other.

Claude Monet, “Water Lillies” (1915) (Source: Wiki commons)

Moreover, as you will see below, the exhibition “A year in Normandy” at the Musée de l’Orangerie assumes this filiation.

In fact, when he paints spring, Hockney knows that he is using all the baggage of the artists who preceded him.

He also has many affinities with Vincent Van Gogh, with whom he shares “the joy of nature”. A title he gave to a previous exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. And when we see “n° 763, 29 March 2021“, we can only think of Van Gogh’s trees.

Vincent Van Gogh, “Flowering Orchard” (1988) (source: Wiki commons)
Van Gogh, The pink peach tree(Source Google Art project)


All the works presented in this second exhibition were conceived on iPad. Alas, they are not presented on this medium; they are huge printed panels that cover the walls of the room, in two rows.

Personally, I was very disappointed. There was little nuance in the colors; an impression of the same green for all the lawns, the same blue for the sky, few shades of white in the clouds or the flowers. Is it the lighting? The poor quality of the prints? I can’t imagine that this escaped the artist’s notice.

Yet Hockney has been working on the iPad since 2010. In fact, he even started digital art on the iPhone back in 2008. In 2010-2011, the Bergé-YSL foundation exhibits his digital drawings: iPhones and iPads cover the walls. An enchantment! And you can even see some of the drawings being created before your eyes.

Exhibition “Fleurs Fraiches” (fresh flowers) at the Bergé-YSL foundation (2010-2011)

And yet, the question was already being asked: “Should screens as small as the iPhone be exhibited? David Hockney insists it was the first digital medium he drew on.”

Why have Hockney taken a different approach today?

In the same French article, another question: “How does such a work sell? If it is printed on paper, it loses its brightness and much of its interest.” I confirm. The printing technology has nothing to do with it: the set of colors available on the screen is much wider than that of a printer.

An exhibition at the Orangerie

Although the paintings exhibited are different at the Musée de l’Orangerie, the principle seems identical: large panels printed on the walls of the museum. The exhibition is visible until February 2022.

Mixed feelings

While I was a big fan even before the discovery of his photographic collages at the Centre Pompidou (1982), and I admired his work on iPad to the point of buying one after the exhibition “Fleurs Fraîches” (2011), I was very disappointed by “The arrival of Spring, Normandy 2020“.

The videos I selected for you would have been enough for me: there is nothing like a computer screen to admire a work conceived on screen. On the other hand, I would have loved to see his paintings and drawings made in Normandy.

Nevertheless, the exhibition “The Tate Modern Collection” fulfilled my expectations. And if you don’t have the opportunity to visit it, you will have an other overview of Hockney’s work in the video below.

A virtual tour with an overview of David Hockney’s work.

So go instead to the exhibitions where you can see the painted works of this great artist. Even in this huge project of the spring bloom, David Hockney did not content himself with the iPad. In fact, some galleries are also showing these painted works. The video below reveals some of them.

Nevertheless, the books and catalogs that reproduce the works of “The arrival of Spring, Normandy 2020” seduce me, in particular « Spring cannot be cancelled ». Even if we lose the luminosity of the work, the size of the reproduction seems to me to be more in adequacy with the original style and the “touch” of the artist.

The whole really transmits “the beauty of the world” and the “joy lavished by nature”.

To discover more

David Hockney’s official website and the Hockney Foundation are two great places to explore the wealth of work of this extraordinary artist.

If you follow the threads they recommend, you can wander through galleries, films and videos where he shares his creative process or his lifestyle.

Want to take a trip? Check out the calendar of his exhibitions. Forgot the date or title of an exhibition or a work? Find them with a few clues and their search tool. Click on the small magnifying glass at the top right.

As for the Tate Modern, it will also allow you to discover other aspects. Articles like this one will help you understand how this contemporary work is a major part of art history.

But above all, don’t miss his books, especially those he co-authored with Martin Gayford.

Finally, you can also follow David Hockney on Twitter (@ArtistHockney).

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