(David Hockney, 1937-)
"David Hockney has always denied being a Pop artist but is included under this heading because this is how the public perceives him. The most highly publicized British artist since the Second World War, he occupies a position analogous to that which was once accorded to Augustus John - one irony of this being that for John's exuberant heterosexuality Hockney substitutes a publicly acknowledged homosexuality. He was born in Bradford in 1937, the fourth of five children. By the time he won a scholarship to Bradford Grammar School at the age of eleven he had already decided that he wanted to be an artist. He drew for the school magazine and produced posters for the school debating society as a substitute for homework. At sixteen he managed to persuade his parents to let him go to the local art school, and this was followed by two years of working in hospitals as an alternative to National Service, as he had registered as a conscientious objector. After this he went to the Royal College of Art in London to continue his studies, arriving there in 1959:
Immediately after I started at the Royal College I realized that there were two groups of students there: a traditional group, who carried on as they had done in art school, doing still life, life painting and figure compositions; and then what I thought of as the more adventurous, lively students, the brightest ones, who were involved in the art of their time. They were doing big Abstract Expressionist paintings on hardboard.
"Hockney duly tried his hand at abstraction, but found it too barren. He was at this moment in a phase of rapid self-discovery on both artistic and personal levels, coming to terms with his own sexuality, and at the same time searching for a style. His stylistic experimentation was fuelled by discussions with R.B. Kitaj, who was a student at the Royal College over the same period. Since figure-painting seemed 'anti-modern' Hockney began by including words in his paintings as a way of humanizing them, but these were soon joined by figures painted in a deliberately rough and rudimentary style which owed a great deal to Jean Dubuffet. Hockney's ebullient personality soon made him well known, even outside the Royal College, and he made his first major impact as a painter with the Young Contemporaries Exhibition of January 1961. This show marked the public emergence of a new Pop movement in Britain, with Hockney (apparently) as one of its leaders.
"In the same year Hockney made a series of discoveries. He visited New York, and was struck by the freedom of American society - it was at this stage that he bleached his hair and began to present a new image, fuelled not only by the United States but also by his discovery of the poetry of Whitman and Cavafy. He had begun to make etchings, and on his return to England set to work on a series of prints which were a modern version of Hogarth's Rake's Progress, and which reflected his American experiences. He also visited Italy for the first time in December 1961 and Berlin in 1962.
"Hockney's success was so rapid that he became independent very soon after leaving the Royal College and did not, like the vast majority of his contemporaries, have to rely on teaching in order to make a living. In 1963 he travelled to Egypt at the invitation of the London Sunday Times, then at the end of the year went to Los Angeles, a city he had always fantasized about:
Within a week of arriving there in this strange big city, not knowing a soul, I'd passed the driving test, bought a car, driven to Las Vegas and won some money, got myself a studio, started painting, all within a week. And I thought, it's just how I imagined it would be.
"The Los Angeles lifestyle and landscape became important features of Hockney's work. There were other important changes in his work as well: he started using acrylics rather than oil paint and he made increasing use of photography for purposes of documentation. His life was professionally successful - he had no fewer than five one-man exhibitions in Europe in 1966 - and personally happy. In 1966 he met Peter Schlesinger, a young Californian art student who became his lover and favourite model.
"In 1968 Hockney returned to England with Peter, who enrolled at the Slade. But gradually the relationship came under increasing strain, and in 1970 it broke up. This break-up was recorded in Jack Hazan's film, A Bigger Splash, a candid documentary about Hockney's life and work, which was being made at this time. This was also the year in which Hockney had his first major retrospective exhibition, at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London.
"In 1973 Hockney went to live in Paris for a while. He took the opportunity while he was there to work with Aldo and Piero Crommelynck, who had been Picasso's master printers, and produced a series of etchings in memory of Picasso who had died earlier that year, and who had been one of Hockney's heroes since he saw the Picasso exhibition at the Tate Gallery in the summer of 1960. In 1974 there was a large exhibition of Hockney's work at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.
"Hockney is instinctively gregarious, and he has always been interested in the full spectrum of the arts, not merely in painting. It was therefore natural that he should be drawn into designing sets for the theatre. His first commission of this sort was for a production of Jarry's Ubu Roi at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 1966. In 1974 he returned to stage design when he was approached by the Glyndebourne Festival to design sets for Stravinsky's Rake's Progress. This was followed by a second collaboration with Glyndebourne, on Mozart's Magic Flute in 1978, and a commission from the Metropolitan Opera in New York to design sets and costumes for a triple bill of works by Satie, Poulenc and Ravel. In 1983, a large touring exhibition, Hockney Paints the Stage, showed a selection of his designs for opera and ballet. He later designed sets for a Stravinsky triple bill at the Metropolitan Opera, Wagner's Tristan und Isolde in Los Angeles, Puccini's Turandot in San Francisco and Strauss's Die Frau ohne Schatten at Covent Garden.
"During this period Hockney was also experimenting both with largecomposite photographs and with works made of paper pulp impregnated with colour - the Paper Pools. From 1982 Hockney explored the use of the camera, making composite images of Polaroid photographs arranged in a rectangular grid. Later he used regular 35-millimetre prints to create photocollages, compiling a 'complete' picture from a series of individually photographed details.
"After working with master printer Ken Tyler in the 1980s on making etchings and lithographs, in 1986 Hockney explored ways of creating work with with colour photocopiers. 'The works I did with the copying machine ... were not reproductions,' he said later, 'they were very complex prints.' Subject to the same curiosity about new technical methods, he began to experiment with the fax machine, and in 1989 even sent work for the Sao Paulo Biennale to Brazil via the telephone line. Experiments using computers followed, composing images and colours on the screen and having them printed directly from the computer disk without preliminary proofing.
"A major retrospective of Hockney's work opened in February 1988 in Los Angeles, and visited New York and London. Technical experimentation has continued to inform his work, without taking it over. His easel paintings made during the 1980s show the influence ofMatisse and Picasso. He has designed for the stage in the 1990s, and in 1995-96 a retrospective exhibition of his drawings was mounted at the Royal Academy in London. Hockney works in his studio in the Hollywood Hills near Los Angeles in California, where he has lived permanently since 1978, and also, increasingly often, in a small house he has purchased in Malibu."
Text from Edward Lucie-Smith, "Lives of the Great 20th-Century Artists"