What follows is a heavily abridged version of the study I did for my Art A-level. Forgive the writing style as it's probably a little bit clunky and rushed (it was coursework I did when I was seventeen, after all), but I thought Hockney deserved a bit more space on e2.

David Hockney Timeline.

David Hockney


My introduction to David Hockney was a visit to the 1853 Gallery at Salt's Mill in Saltaire, near his home town of Bradford. As I read into Hockney's life and work, now spanning over 60 years, what really struck me was the diversity and variation in his art. Although his explorations into different media are intense and often pioneering, Hockney always seems to grow impatient and frequently moves his work into completely different subject areas so it is sometimes difficult to follow his career. However, there are distinct themes running through his changes in media, and there are patterns to be spotted in his experimentation.

Amongst the first well-published Hockney pictures are his love paintings and tea paintings, from his time at The Royal College of Art, London. Among the first people attracted to his work were contemporaries such as R.B. Kitaj and other pop artists in London at the time. These pictures attract my attention for several reasons, but the main reason is the detail of thought and unambiguous nature of the themes. Some of the paintings have secret code letters used to identify people initials, and text plays a role in many of these drawings, bringing Hockney closer to the London pop artists of the time (although at this time he was much less commercial). Hockney was already courting contoversy at this time, influenced by the subtly homoerotic poetry of Walt Whitman. Although these messages lose their impact in our more morally forgiving time, I can appreciate that Hockney was taking risks with these paintings, especially (as he says on the South Bank Show) since they were painted quite openly in the college studios.

Hockney's homosexuality and his private life have been the subject of many magazine and newspaper articles in the past. I have no doubt that Hockney has made a good contribution to both gay awareness and gay rights, and some of his work is certainly of an openly and proud homosexual nature. However, some people seem to think of Hockney solely as the man who painted people in showers and swimming pools in Los Angeles. It is this narrow view of such a varied artist I would like to think I have avoided, even if I do not have room to go into great depth about all areas of his work.

When Hockney encounters a new medium - such as acrylic paints in the 1960's, Polaroid film in the 1970's, digital art in the 1990's - he begins with work which is aimed at experimentation. Often without realising it, Hockney lends his charm and character to works which are merely starting points with new materials. So even though Hockney's work holds value in the art market, and making art is his profession, not all of his work is for his commercial gain. Many of the pieces Hockney produces, especially when it comes to digital work and fax work (which are unlimited in their accurate reproduction), are purely for his personal pleasure and experimentation.

Amongst Hockney's finest works are, in my opinion, his double portraits from the 1970's of celebrities such as Ossie Clark and wife, his photographic collages of the 1980's, and his famous swimming pool pictures, to name but a few. I am impressed by the scale of his pictures, from hundreds of photographs to make one joiner (his name for photo-collage), through to over a hundred pages in one fax picture.

In the opinion of critic Edward Lucie-Smith, Hockney, "has become one of the world's prize bores on perspective", but I would have to disagree. Having traced Hockney's experimentation with perspective back through his photocollages, set design and other studies, I now think more carefully about perception in my own drawings and paintings. In history, photography was touted as the start of the demise of fine art, but Hockney's manipulation of photography in collage means it is possible to communicate his views and ideas with his camera as others would with paint. A photographer friend of Hockney said his joiners aren't photographs, they're more like paintings. Perhaps Hockney needs to move on from his fascination with perception and one-point-perspective, but it is my view that these works of Hockney's serve to enrich his other works, and analyse more closely what he is doing.

Even for an outspoken and articulate artist, putting verbal meanings to his visual works is sometimes difficult. This problem of communicating one's perceptions is explained in the poem Who Learns My Lesson Complete? by Walt Whitman, where he says,

"I cannot say to any person what I hear -- I cannot say it to myself -- it is very wonderful."

The same problem is also addressed by Hockney in his own, typically more blunt manner. Referring to his recent paintings of Yorkshire he says,

"The colour was fantastic. I can see colour. I mean other people don't see it like me, obviously."

The way Hockney sees colour, and specifically light, is one of the stand out characteristics of his work, typifying much of his work from opera set design through photography. Hockney is never afraid to lend a warmth to scenes where others may have missed his optimism, not least in his latest paintings of the Yorkshire countryside. Another recurring theme in Hockney's work, as I have already mentioned, is his ongoing battle with conventions of perspective. From an exercise in perspective, Kerby (based on the frontispiece for Dr Brook Taylor's methods in perspective by Hogarth), to his more grand and famous works, such as Pearblossom Highway, Hockney challenges everyday views on perspective. Edward Lucie-Smith relates reverse perspective work to Byzantine art, but Hockney is not simply drawing on another culture's influences, he is investigating for himself what he could not ever hope to be taught.

Fax Pictures

It was Hockney's innovative use of modern technology that brought him to my attention, particularly his use of the fax machine. Sending pictures around the world that caught my imagination as it did with Hockney. Hockney's fax pictures only really exist as the finished fax since the "original" pieces are only tools for the work in progress, and whilst it is possible to send them to more than one place, he sends pictures only once.

The way Hockney uses fax to send his work means that he need never be present to finish a painting, and that it is often someone following his instructions who finishes the work for him. For example, as Hockney says of the Sau Paulo Biennale in Brazil, 1989,

"I sent Richard Schmidt to Sau Paulo to put up the show - I have never been there - because I had decided I shouldn't go : the point of the exhibition was that it was being sent through the telephone."

One of his most ambitious fax projects, Tennis is one of my favourite Hockney pieces for several reasons. Tennis is one of the only faxed works to involve an audience at the receiving end; the piece was faxed across the Atlantic to the 1853 Gallery at the request of the gallery's owner and friend of Hockney, Jonathan Silver. There is an undeniable wonder about Hockney's mastery of fax technology, he exploits the mechanisms of the machinery superbly. No texture seems unachievable even though (try it yourself) some effects are very tricky. There is no room for using subtle shades in a work for faxing. Enlargements are obviously a great help to Hockney, as some textures are lost in the miniature versions. In my opinion, some of Hockney's fax works concentrate too strongly on the use of the fax technology, detracting from what might otherwise be a pleasing image. Of course, the artist does not make a big deal out of such experimental works - it's left to people like me to add meaning to everything he does. The fax pictures seem to be about exploiting technology in an unusual and often grand manner. Hockney's way of thinking in sections and distorted perspective, which really peaked with the last of his composite photographs puts him in good stead for creating large and unusual images.

Digital Art

Hockney as a person is a tireless traveller, and I think this is related to his quest for the new and exciting things of the world. I think his constant darting around between artistic techniques and media are related to his enthusiasm for travel, and for innovation. As one of the first people ever to obtain a digital camera, Hockney was given an enviable head start over many other artists in the field of digital image manipulation. Just as with the fax machine, where he was again in an enviable position as one of the first people to own one, his work serves as a great influence to others now exploring the same areas. Digital photography has now moved on quite a way since Hockney's works such as 40 snaps of my house (1990) and 112 L.A. Visitors (1990-91), and they serve more as examples of colour use and composition than of techniques to use with today's technology.

Hockney seems to love the sense of producing an original picture without paint or photography, and comments that between his drawing with computers and the publication of his book That's The Way I See It there was no photography involved in reproducing his computerised work. To Hockney, the fact that the work is not a reproduction means that in essence every copy of the book holds an original piece of artwork. Hockney points out that the only sure way to limit the work is to erase the computer file which holds the information.

Similar questions to those raised by Hockney's work about reproductions were raised with the advent of dada and pop art, and the readymades of Claus Oldenberg, Marcel Duchamp and their contemporaries. The readymade philosophy of taking freely available commercial images and objects and transforming them into art was rubbished by many a critic, but the idea was there, and it opened up the art world to be ready for pop art and similar movements that followed. The artists who constructed these readymades were not necessarily the most talented or even popular artists in their time, but what set them apart was their ways of thinking. This is what sets Hockney apart in his use of the digital camera. Anybody could take a picture and print it out, but Hockney immediately does something different with the technology. Hockney uses more than one picture in his compositions, he strives for intense colour and at the same time a realism in the appearance of the picture. In 112 L.A. Visitors he uses more than one photograph per person because he dislikes the foreshortening effect of single photographs, and also to maximise the potential of the equipment - the possible detail in four photographs is obviously greater than that possible in one photograph.

Hockney's passion for colour becomes two-fold in 40 Snaps of My House (1990) where we can see his use of colour in his decorating (primary colours especially) but we can also see how he has used the saturation of his camera and printer create ever more vivid hues of these colours. What it is that drives Hockney's passion for colour is unclear, but Lawrence Weschler believed it to be his deafness. That is, as a blind person develops more acute hearing to compensate for lack of sight, so a person gradually going deaf as Hockney is might develop increasingly acute eye-sight and be more sensitive to colour especially. This would explain why starting from his work in theatre and his photo-collage work through to his most recent paintings of the Yorkshire countryside, Hockney's use of colour has become more intense and saturated.

The first pictures Hockney produced with a computer were actually on a television program where Hockney was asked to draw using state of the art software whilst the resultant pictures were filmed. Hockney does not sound pleased with the results, but he was obviously excited about the methods, he likens it to painting with light on glass. Hockney's first home-made computer drawings are quite different. There are some small sketches in his book That's the way I see it and these are very similar to Canyon Painting (1979), an experimental piece where Hockney had just acquired some new acrylic paints.

Once Hockney has got through his main experimental phase with computer drawing he produced a poster for Turandot, an opera for which he designed the sets entirely on computer. The poster was printed from computer disk and Hockney again enthuses about the directness of the whole thing. That he does not need to paint everything to achieve what he wants is pleasing for Hockney - again on his quest for the new things of the world.

Digital photography lets Hockney experiment with colour and form much more quickly than even his Polaroid work did. His distinct love for colour literally shines out in his paintings of Los Angeles from the 1960's and 70's, but he is unique in bringing the same sense of style and vision to the landscapes of Yorkshire. Hockney is no technological crusader, fighting for digital methods to extinguish the power of painting and photography in the next millennium, he is a typical artist - a master at using tools. In my opinion, there are few things Hockney ever does to the detriment of his art work. I have read critics who believe the standard of Hockney's work peaked over 20 years ago, but I have only really studied in depth his work since then, and it seems clear to me Hockney has built on his skills as a painter and draftsman and set to become a great artist in many different media.

I now like Hockney's work more than ever. Whilst I did appreciate his drawings, paintings and prints before I really knew his work, and it was his use of modern technology which initially interested me, I now truly understand the roots of these works. Hockney never ceases to work on new things, he is driven by emotion and passion for the fresh ideas. I only wonder what technology is being developed for Hockney to exploit next.



  • Pop Art, Lucy R. Lippard, Thames and Hudson, 1966
  • Art in the Age of Mass Media, John A. Walker, Pluto Press, 1983
  • Hockney on Photography, Paul Joyce, Jonathan Cope Ltd., 1988
  • David Hockney: A Retrospective, Organised by Maurice Tuchman and Stephanie Barron, Thames and Hudson / Los Angeles County Museum of Art., 1988
  • That's the way I see it, David Hockney, BCA / Thames and Hudson, 1993
  • David Hockney, Paul Melia, Manchester University Press, 1995
  • David Hockney, Marco Livingstone, Thames and Hudson, 1996




Also various internet sources, now almost all out of date...

If somebody finds some URLs with example pictures on they could post them below.

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