Born in Bradford, UK in 1937, Hockney studied at the Royal College of Art in London under heavyweights such as Francis Bacon and Peter Blake. He notes being inspired early on by Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse for their distinct yet varied styles.
Here, we’re talking all things Hockney including some of his favorite subjects and how he stays relevant in the digital age.
Hockney lives in the UK but frequently stays in California and these two very different areas influence his painting.
Living between London and California offer two vastly different lifestyles. When you think of London, umbrellas, trench coats, and glistening cobblestone streets might come to mind. When you think of California, orange groves, clear blue skies, and tall palm trees might be more likely. Both evoke beauty in their own ways and the variation meant that Hockney’s paintings and inspirations were quite varied as well.
Some of Hockney’s most well-known paintings are a series of swimming pools which are surely influenced by his California lifestyle while his lush landscape paintings were probably a result of the time he spent in London.
Hockney often painted the people he was close with and these portraits were usually of people in pairs.
Most pop artists were focused on consumerism and everyday items that were a shock to see within gallery walls. For example, Andy Warhol was likely to create portraits of celebrities like Elvis or Marilyn Monroe and that was part of the appeal. It was pop culture crossing over to fine art. Hockney, however, did things a little differently.
His interest in pop art seemed to be more about making art more accessible and overall, less boring. It’s why he used bright colors and made everything a little more fun. He also liked to depict his close relationships with the real people in his life. They weren’t celebrities – but viewers resonated with the portraits just the same.
One of his most famous paintings is of his mum and dad called My Parents which clearly expresses how he sees their personalities. Using bright colors and giving an overall impression of love and familiarity, it’s certainly not what you’d expect from pop art. Still, it’s accessible and relatable and that’s what the movement was about.
Other people featured in his paintings were the men he loved, friends he spent a lot of time with, and couples Hockney admired. For example, George Lawson and Wayne Sleep is a glorious yet understated expression of love between two partners which it seems Hockney felt compelled to share.
Hockney experimented with more than just pop art and frequently worked with photo collages, opera posters, Cubism, stage design, and plein air English countrysides.
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In the early 80s, Hockney started working with photography collage using Polaroids and 35mm processed color photos. He usually took photos of a single subject at different times of the day and using different perspectives to create one uniform image.
For example, Pearblossom Highway is comprised of over 700 separate photographs. He preferred this type of photography since he felt wide-lens shots that were becoming more popular at the time would come out looking distorted. He started joining narrowly focused photos together and found they told better stories than single shots. His photo collages were then born.
Hockney’s most recent work involves painting on iPads.
No – he’s not painting the actual device. Hockney uses programs within the iPad to create digital paintings, much like how illustrators at animation studios like Disney and Pixar create their animated movies and TV shows.
One of the most interesting aspects of this new way of painting is the fact that you can see his process from start to finish. The painting gets saved as a digital copy while we’re able to watch the creation of his pieces like rewinding a tape. This not only helps art lovers enjoy the piece more completely, but it’s an incredible teaching tool as well.
Even in his 80s, Hockney has found a way to stay relevant in the art world using digital technology to tell stories and share his love of painting. With vibrant colors and a knack for storytelling through a still image, Hockney is a British treasure and, as art collectors, we’re lucky he’s still at work.
Article Update January 23, 2020
Hockney’s masterpiece The Splash will be featured in Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction in London on February 11, 2020.
As we’ve already mentioned, Hockney had a dual-city lifestyle and one of Hockney’s most famous motifs, the swimming pool, came from Californian influences. The Splash is the second of three variations on the swimming pool theme: the first being The Little Splash which remains in a private collection and the third, A Bigger Splash created in 1967.
However, The Splash was painted in 1966 and according to Sotheby’s “represents the apex of Hockney’s Californian fantasy.” The artist himself said of The Splash: “Everyone knows a splash can’t be frozen in time, so when you see it like that in a painting it’s even more striking than in a photograph.”
In The Splash, Hockney took formal and metaphorical techniques and created a unique piece of work that is undoubtedly one of the most iconic Pop art images of the 20th century. With that being said, we’ll have our eyes peeled come February to see the ripple effects of The Splash when it goes to auction. Estimates range from £20,000,000 to £30,000,000.