Born 9th July 1937
Bradford, West Riding of Yorkshire, England
Bradford School of Art (1953–1958)
Royal College of Art (1959–1962)
Known for Painting, Printmaking, Photography, Set design
Movement Pop art
John Moores Painting Prize (1967)
Companion of Honour (1997)
Order of Merit 2012
David Hockney, OM CH RA (born 9th July 1937) is an English painter, draughtsman, printmaker, stage designer and photographer. An important contributor to the Pop art movement of the 1960s, he is considered one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century.
Hockney lives in Bridlington, East Riding of Yorkshire, and Kensington, London. He maintains two residences in California, where he lived on and off for over 30 years: one in Nichols Canyon, Los Angeles, and an office and archives on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood.
Hockney was born in Bradford, England, to Laura and Kenneth Hockney (a conscientious objector in the Second World War), the fourth of five children. He was educated at Wellington Primary School, Bradford Grammar School, Bradford College of Art (where his teachers included Frank Lisle ) and the Royal College of Art in London, where he met R. B. Kitaj. While there, Hockney said he felt at home and took pride in his work. At the Royal College of Art, Hockney featured in the exhibition Young Contemporaries—alongside Peter Blake—that announced the arrival of British Pop art. He was associated with the movement, but his early works display expressionist elements, similar to some works by Francis Bacon. When the RCA said it would not let him graduate in 1962, Hockney drew the sketch The Diploma in protest. He had refused to write an essay required for the final examination, saying he should be assessed solely on his artworks. Recognising his talent and growing reputation, the RCA changed its regulations and awarded the diploma.
A visit to California, where he subsequently lived for many years, inspired him to make a series of paintings of swimming pools in the comparatively new acrylic medium rendered in a highly realistic style using vibrant colours. The artist moved to Los Angeles in 1964, returned to London in 1968, and from 1973 to 1975 lived in Paris. He moved to Los Angeles in 1978, at first renting the canyon house he lived in and later bought the property and expanded it to include his studio. He also owned a 1,643-square-foot beach house at 21039 Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, which he sold in 1999 for around $1.5 million.
Hockney is openly gay, and unlike Andy Warhol, whom he befriended, he openly explored the nature of gay love in his portraiture. Sometimes, as in We Two Boys Together Clinging (1961), named after a poem by Walt Whitman, the works refer to his love for men. Already in 1963, he painted two men together in the painting Domestic Scene, Los Angeles, one showering while the other washes his back. In summer 1966, while teaching at UCLA he met Peter Schlesinger, an art student who posed for paintings and drawings, and with whom he was romantically involved.
Hockney made prints, portraits of friends, and stage designs for the Royal Court Theatre, Glyndebourne, La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Born with synaesthesia, he sees synesthetic colours in response to musical stimuli. This does not show up in his painting or photography artwork, but is a common underlying principle in his designs for stage sets for ballet and opera—where he bases background colours and lighting on the colours he sees while listening to the piece’s music.
Hockney painted portraits at different periods in his career. From 1968, and for the next few years he painted friends, lovers, and relatives just under lifesize and in pictures that depicted good likenesses of his subjects. Hockney’s own presence is often implied, since the lines of perspective converge to suggest the artist’s point of view. Hockney has repeatedly returned to the same subjects – his parents, artist Mo McDermott (Mo McDermott, 1976), various writers he has known, fashion designers Celia Birtwell and Ossie Clark (Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, 1970–71), curator Henry Geldzahler, art dealer Nicholas Wilder, George Lawson and his ballet dancer lover, Wayne Sleep.
On arrival in California, Hockney changed from oil to acrylic paint, applying it as smooth flat and brilliant colour. In 1965, the print workshop Gemini G.E.L. approached him to create a series of lithographs with a Los Angeles theme. Hockney responded by creating a ready-made art collection.
In the early 1980s, Hockney began to produce photo collages, which he called “joiners”, first using Polaroid prints and subsequently 35mm, commercially processed colour prints. Using Polaroid snaps or photolab-prints of a single subject, Hockney arranged a patchwork to make a composite image. An early photomontage was of his mother. Because the photographs are taken from different perspectives and at slightly different times, the result is work that has an affinity with Cubism, one of Hockney’s major aims—discussing the way human vision works. Some pieces are landscapes, such as Pearblossom Highway #2, others portraits, such as Kasmin 1982, and My Mother, Bolton Abbey, 1982.
Creation of the “joiners” occurred accidentally. He noticed in the late sixties that photographers were using cameras with wide-angle lenses. He did not like these photographs because they looked somewhat distorted. While working on a painting of a living room and terrace in Los Angeles, he took Polaroid shots of the living room and glued them together, not intending for them to be a composition on their own. On looking at the final composition, he realized it created a narrative, as if the viewer moved through the room. He began to work more with photography after this discovery and stopped painting for a while to exclusively pursue this new technique. Frustrated with the limitations of photography and its ‘one eyed’ approach, however, he returned to painting.
In 1976, at Atelier Crommelynck, Hockney created a portfolio of 20 etchings, The Blue Guitar: Etchings By David Hockney Who Was Inspired By Wallace Stevens Who Was Inspired By Pablo Picasso. The etchings refer to themes in a poem by Wallace Stevens, “The Man With The Blue Guitar”. It was published by Petersburg Press in October 1977. That year, Petersburg also published a book, in which the images were accompanied by the poem’s text.
Hockney was commissioned to design the cover and pages for the December 1985 issue of the French edition of Vogue. Consistent with his interest in cubism and admiration for Pablo Picasso, Hockney chose to paint Celia Birtwell (who appears in several of his works) from different views, as if the eye had scanned her face diagonally.
In December 1985, Hockney used the Quantel Paintbox, a computer program that allowed the artist to sketch directly onto the screen. Using the program was similar to drawing on the PET film for prints, with which he had much experience. The resulting work was featured in a BBC series that profiled a number of artists.
His artwork was used on the cover of the 1989 British Telecom telephone directory for Bradford.
Hockney returned more frequently to Yorkshire in the 1990s, usually every three months, to visit his mother who died in 1999. He rarely stayed for more than two weeks until 1997, when his friend Jonathan Silver who was terminally ill encouraged him to capture the local surroundings. He did this at first with paintings based on memory, some from his boyhood. Hockney returned to Yorkshire for longer and longer stays, and by 2005 was painting the countryside en plein air. He set up residence and an immense redbrick seaside studio, a converted industrial workspace, in the seaside town of Bridlington, about 75 miles from where he was born. The oil paintings he produced after 2005 were influenced by his intensive studies in watercolour (for over a year in 2003–2004). He created paintings made of multiple smaller canvases—nine, 15 or more—placed together. To help him visualize work at that scale, he used digital photographic reproductions; each day’s work was photographed, and Hockney generally took a photographic print home.
In June 2007, Hockney’s largest painting, Bigger Trees Near Warter, which measures 15 feet by 40 feet, was hung in the Royal Academy’s largest gallery in its annual Summer Exhibition. This work “is a monumental-scale view of a coppice in Hockney’s native Yorkshire, between Bridlington and York. It was painted on 50 individual canvases, mostly working in situ, over five weeks last winter.” In 2008, he donated it to the Tate Gallery in London, saying: “I thought if I’m going to give something to the Tate I want to give them something really good. It’s going to be here for a while. I don’t want to give things I’m not too proud of … I thought this was a good painting because it’s of England … it seems like a good thing to do.” The painting was the subject of a BBC1 Imagine film documentary by Bruno Wollheim called David Hockney: A Bigger Picture’ (2009) which followed Hockney as he worked outdoors over the preceding two years.
Since 2009, Hockney has painted hundreds of portraits, still lifes and landscapes using the Brushes iPhone and iPad application, often sending them to his friends. His show Fleurs fraîches (Fresh flowers) was held at La Fondation Pierre Bergé in Paris. A Fresh-Flowers exhibit opened in 2011 at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, featuring more than 100 of his drawings on 25 iPads and 20 iPods. In late 2011, Hockney revisited California to paint Yosemite National Park on his iPad. For the season 2012–2013 in the Vienna State Opera he designed, on his iPad, a large scale picture (176 sqm) as part of the exhibition series Safety Curtain, conceived by museum in progress.
Hockney’s first opera designs, for Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress at the Glyndebourne Festival Opera in England in 1975 and The Magic Flute (1978) were painted drops. In 1981, he agreed to design sets and costumes for three 20th-century French works at the Metropolitan Opera House with the title Parade. The works were Parade, a ballet with music by Erik Satie; Les mamelles de Tirésias, an opera with libretto by Guillaume Apollinaire and music by Francis Poulenc, and L’enfant et les sortilèges, an opera with libretto by Colette and music by Maurice Ravel. The set for L’enfant et les sortilèges is a permanent installation at the Spalding House branch of the Honolulu Museum of Art. He designed sets for Puccini’s Turandot in 1991 at the Chicago Lyric Opera and a Richard Strauss Die Frau ohne Schatten in 1992 at the Royal Opera House in London. In 1994, he designed costumes and scenery for twelve opera arias for the TV broadcast of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia in Mexico City. Technical advances allowed him to become increasingly complex in model-making. At his studio he had a proscenium opening 6 feet (1.8 m) by 4 feet (1.2 m) in which he built sets in 1:8 scale. He also used a computerized setup that let him punch in and program lighting cues at will and synchronize them to a soundtrack of the music.
Hockney had his first one-man show when he was 26 in 1963, and by 1970 the Whitechapel Gallery in London had organized the first of several major retrospectives, which subsequently travelled to three European institutions. In 2004, he was included in the cross-generational Whitney Biennial, where his portraits appeared in a gallery with those of a younger artist he had inspired, Elizabeth Peyton.
In October 2006, the National Portrait Gallery in London organized one of the largest ever displays of Hockney’s portraiture work, including 150 paintings, drawings, prints, sketchbooks, and photocollages from over five decades. The collection ranged from his earliest self-portraits to work he completed in 2005. Hockney assisted in displaying the works and the exhibition, which ran until January 2007, was one of the gallery’s most successful. In 2009, “David Hockney: Just Nature” attracted some 100,000 visitors at the Kunsthalle Würth in Schwäbisch Hall, Germany.
A Bigger Picture at the Royal Academy in 2012
From 21st January 2012 to 9th April 2012, the Royal Academy presented A Bigger Picture, which included more than 150 works, many of which take entire walls in the gallery’s brightly lit rooms. The exhibition is dedicated to landscapes, especially trees and tree tunnels. Works include oil paintings and watercolours inspired by his native Yorkshire. Around 50 drawings were created on an iPad and printed on paper. Hockney said, in a 2012 interview, “It’s about big things. You can make paintings bigger. We’re also making photographs bigger, videos bigger, all to do with drawing.” The exhibition moved to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain from 15th May to 30th September, and from there to the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, Germany, between 27th October 2012 and 3rd February 2013.
From 26th October 2013 to 30th January 2014 David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition was presented at the de Young Museum, one of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, showing work since 2002 and including Photoshop portraits, multi-canvas oils, iPad landscapes and digital movies shot with multiple cameras.
‘Hockney, Printmaker’, curated by Richard Lloyd, International Head of Prints at Christie’s, was the first major exhibition to focus on Hockney’s prolific career as a printmaker. The exhibition ran from 5th February 2014 to 11th May 2014 at Dulwich Picture Gallery before going on tour to The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle.
Many of Hockney’s works are housed in Salts Mill, in Saltaire, near his home town of Bradford. Writer Christopher Isherwood’s collection is considered the most important private collection of his work. In the 1990s, Isherwood’s long-time partner Don Bachardy donated the collection to a foundation. His work is in numerous public and private collections worldwide, including:
Honolulu Museum of Art
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark
Art Institute of Chicago
National Portrait Gallery, London
Kennedy Museum of Art, Athens, Ohio
Tate Gallery, London
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
Philadelphia Museum of Art
De Young Museum, San Francisco
Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
In 1967, Hockney’s painting, Peter Getting Out Of Nick’s Pool, won the John Moores Painting Prize at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. Hockney was offered a knighthood in 1990 but declined, before accepting an Order of Merit in January 2012. He was awarded The Royal Photographic Society’s Progress medal in 1988 and the Special 150th Anniversary Medal and Honorary Fellowship (HonFRPS) in recognition of a sustained, significant contribution to the art of photography in 2003. He was made a Companion of Honour in 1997 and is a Royal Academician. In 2012, Queen Elizabeth II appointed him to the Order of Merit, an honor restricted to 24 members at any one time for their contributions to the arts and sciences.
He was a Distinguished Honoree of the National Arts Association, Los Angeles, in 1991 and received the First Annual Award of Achievement from the Archives of American Art, Los Angeles, in 1993. He was appointed to the Board of Trustees of the American Associates of the Royal Academy Trust, New York in 1992 and was given a Foreign Honorary Membership to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1997. In 2003, Hockney was awarded the Lorenzo de’ Medici Lifetime Career Award of the Florence Biennale, Italy.
Commissioned by The Other Art Fair, a November 2011 poll of 1,000 British painters and sculptors declared him Britain’s most influential artist of all time.
A Bigger Grand Canyon, 1998, National Gallery of Australia.
From 1963, Hockney has been represented by art dealer John Kasmin, as well as by Annely Juda Fine Art, London. On 21st June 2006, Hockney’s painting, The Splash sold for £2.6 million. His A Bigger Grand Canyon, a series of 60 paintings that combined to produce one enormous picture, was bought by the National Gallery of Australia for $4.6 million. Beverly Hills Housewife (1966–67), a 12-foot-long acrylic that depicts the collector Betty Freeman standing by her pool in a long hot-pink dress, sold for $7.9 million at Christie’s in New York in 2008, the top lot of the sale and a record price for a Hockney.
The Hockney–Falco thesis
In the 2001 television programme and book, Secret Knowledge, Hockney posited that the Old Masters used camera obscura techniques that projected the image of the subject onto the surface of the painting. Hockney argues that this technique migrated gradually to Italy and most of Europe, and is the reason for the photographic style of painting we see in the Renaissance and later periods of art. He published his conclusions in the 2001 book “Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters,” which was revised in 2006.
Like his father, Hockney was a conscientious objector, and worked as a medical orderly in hospitals during his National Service, 1957–59.
Hockney was a founder of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in 1979. He serves on the advisory board of the political magazine Standpoint, and contributed original sketches for its launch edition, in June 2008.
He is a staunch pro-tobacco campaigner and was invited to guest-edit the Today programme on 29th December 2009 to air his views on the subject.
In October 2010, he and a hundred other artists signed an open letter to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Jeremy Hunt, protesting against cutbacks in the arts.
In popular culture
In 1966, while working on a series of etchings based on love poems by the Greek/Alexandrian poet Cavafy, Hockney starred in a documentary by filmmaker James Scott, entitled Love’s Presentation. He was the subject of Jack Hazan’s film, A Bigger Splash (1974), named after one of Hockney’s most famous swimming pool paintings from 1967. Hockney was also the inspiration of artist Billy Pappas in the documentary film Waiting for Hockney (2008), which debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2008.
In 2005 Burberry creative director Christopher Bailey centred his entire spring/summer menswear collection around the artist and in 2012 fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, a close friend, named a checked jacket after Hockney In 2011 British GQ named him one of the 50 Most Stylish Men in Britain and in March 2013 he was listed as one of the Fifty Best-dressed Over-50s by The Guardian.
David Hockney: A Rake’s Progress (2012) is a biography of Hockney covering the years 1937–75, by writer/photographer Christopher Simon Sykes.
On 14th August 2012 Hockney was the subject of BBC Radio Four’s The New Elizabethans, presented by James Naughtie. In December 2012, The Sunday Times published for the first time works that it had commissioned Hockney to produce on a 1963 trip to Egypt and which had been shelved because of the Assassination of John F. Kennedy. Hockney had been paid in full but the works had never been previously published.
The 2012 album Mia Pharaoh, by American indie pop band Miniature Tigers, contains a song entitled “Afternoons with David Hockney”. Two versions of a song by British punk group Television Personalities, entitled “David Hockney’s Diaries” appear on the 1982 album They Could Have Been Bigger Than The Beatles and the 1984 album The Painted Word.
The 2014 Netflix original series BoJack Horseman features a parody of the Hockney painting Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) in a central set of the protagonist’s office.
The 2015 Luca Guadagnino’s film A Bigger Splash was named after Hockney’s painting.
David Hockney Foundation
In 2012, Hockney, worth an estimated $55.2 million (approx. £36.1 m) transferred paintings valued at $124.2 million (approx. £81.5 m) to the David Hockney Foundation, and gave an additional $1.2 million (approx. £0.79 m) in cash to help fund the foundation’s operations. The artist plans to give away the paintings, through the foundation, to galleries including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Tate in London.