Issue 103: 2017 05 04: David Hockney 60 years of work (William Morton)

04 May 2017

David Hockney: 60 Years of Work

Tate Britain, 9 February – 29 May.

Reviewed by William Morton

Christopher Isherwood and Dan Bachardy, copyright David Hockney

Hockney is, of course, one of the most high-profile and respected living artists.  Many of his paintings are instantly recognisable, such as his Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy included in this exhibition which surveys his whole career.  The exhibition is a must for anybody who is interested in his work, but one consequence of his popularity is that it can get crowded (like so many major exhibitions in London), so you may have to work to get a good view of things.

Hockney is a remarkably versatile artist and one of his special talents is his use of bold colours and there are some splendid examples of this on show.  In particular, there are some very successful landscapes of California (such as Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica) and of Yorkshire (such as Going up Garrowby Hill).  The same talent is used to great effect in his Californian pool paintings with their clear homosexual under-current such as Peter getting out of Nick’s Pool and Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) in which a fully dressed man gazes at another swimming under water.

Another appealing element of Hockney’s work is his wit.  A fine example is the striking cartoonish Flight into Italy, Swiss Landscape 1962 in which a child-like car is shown rushing along against a background of mountains in outline with the height shown beside each peak.  Again, in the portraits of American collectors, one is left wondering whether he is, not unkindly, taking the mickey a bit.  In the Tate’s A Bigger Splash, what has caused the splash is left to the viewer’s imagination.

Perhaps the highlight of the exhibition (possibly because many of the pictures are well-known) are the large portraits such as that of Christopher Isherwood and Dan Bachardy, the one of Ossie Clark and his wife and their cat already mentioned, and one of his parents in which his mother stares straight ahead expressionless while his father is hunched over a magazine absorbed in his own world.

Hockney has been quick to use to make use of technology.  He returned to the UK in 2006 and for a while worked on paintings of the Yorkshire Wolds which were combined with others to form large landscapes using computer images to assist him.  In recent years, he has taken to using film and sketching with an IPad.  One room contains four screens each simultaneously showing the same view of a Yorkshire road but as it changes with each season.  Although these films are striking and pleasing to the eye, they perhaps lack the input and impact of the paintings.

Interestingly, it would appear that it is Hockney’s practice to retain the copyright in his works, which hints at a canny Yorkshire side to him.  He is now based in California again, and aged 80 so possibly unlikely to strike out in new directions, but the range and strength of his work in this exhibition shows his reputation is fully justified.


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