David Hockney’s Self-Portraits
Exploring and Experimenting with the Self

David Hockney’s Self-Portrait II. A digital print of David Hockney seated, wearing an orange shirt and blue jacket with red glasses and a hat. Self-Portrait II © David Hockney 2012
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Across the decades, David Hockney’s evolving styles in self-portraiture have mirrored broader shifts in the art world, from traditional mediums to digital technology. Each portrait, whether rendered on canvas or an iPad, captures the essence of Hockney's journey – a journey marked by bold experimentation, constant reinvention, and a deepening understanding of the self. These initial self-renditions, created during his formative years, not only chart his evolution as an artist but also prefigure the themes and techniques that would define his later works. In Hockney’s hands, self-portraiture becomes a limitless field of inquiry, a space for continual experimentation and discovery.

The Genesis of Genius: David Hockney's Early Self-Portraits

Hockney’s journey into self-portraiture began in the 1950s, a time when he was still honing his skills at the Bradford College of Art and later at the Royal College of Art in London. These early self-portraits reveal a young artist deeply engaged in a process of self-exploration and artistic experimentation. Far from being just studies of physical appearance, these works are introspective explorations, infused with a sense of curiosity and emerging identity.

Rendered with a raw, unrefined honesty, these early pieces often exhibit a muted palette and a tentative approach to form, reflecting the influence of the Old Masters and the contemporary wave of Abstract Expressionism. The influence of artists like Francis Bacon is evident in the emotional intensity and the distorted, expressive forms that characterise some of these early works. Even at this early stage, Hockney's self-portraits are marked by a striking balance between introspection and exhibition, a trait that would become a hallmark of his style.

In these self-portraits, one can trace the embryonic stages of Hockney's fascination with colour, light, and perspective. Elements that would later blossom in his celebrated California pool series and vibrant landscapes are already present in nascent form. These portraits are more than chronological snapshots; they are rich, layered narratives that offer insights into Hockney's psychological landscape and his evolving artistic vision.

The Xerox Era: Replicating the Self through Photocopiers

Of the 1980s art scene, Hockney's innovative engagement with the Xerox photocopier stands as a testament to his relentless experimentation and exploration of self-identity. This era, often dubbed “The Xerox Era”, marked a significant departure from traditional mediums, showcasing Hockney's adeptness at melding technology with artistry to forge a new path in self-portraiture.

Hockney's use of the Xerox machine was revolutionary, transforming a mundane office tool into a potent instrument for artistic expression. His self-portraits from this period capture physical likenesses while serving as a canvas for deeper introspection and critique. By manipulating the copier's capabilities to layer, distort, and reconfigure his image, Hockney was able to challenge our perceptions of identity and self. These works provoke us to consider the multifaceted nature of personality and the fragmented way in which we present ourselves to the world, long before the digital age introduced us to the curated personas of social media.

Hockney's Xerox prints also offer a commentary on the democratisation of art. The photocopier, accessible and reproducible, symbolises a shift away from the exclusivity of handcrafted art, suggesting a new era where art could be more widely produced and shared. Yet, Hockney elevates this medium, infusing each piece with a uniqueness that defies the very notion of replication, blurring the lines between originality and duplication.

In a time of rapid technological advancement and shifting cultural norms, Hockney's Home Made Prints interrogate the construction of identity and the burgeoning dialogue around representation. His experimentation with photocopiers not only highlights his technical ingenuity but also his sensitivity to the evolving discourse on self-perception. Through these experimental self-portraits, Hockney invites us to reflect on the ways in which technology shapes our understanding of ourselves and each other.

"He changes and quests after new manners of observation and expression almost every decade."
Colin B. Bailey, Director of The Morgan Library and Museum

Digital Self-Portraiture: Hockney’s iPad Drawings

Hockney's foray into digital self-portraiture using the iPad represents a fascinating confluence of tradition and modernity. Through a luminous iPad screen Hockney captures the fluidity of identity in strokes of light and colour.

In Self Portrait, 20 March 2012 (1219), Hockney presents himself in a manner that captures his essence with striking intimacy and vulnerability. The portrait is infused with a blue that echoes the iconic hues of his celebrated Swimming Pools paintings, however this time, it's the blue in his eyes drawing us in. The faint specks of red mixed with the ashes from the cigarette he holds—an enduring motif in his self-portraits—add a layer of personal narrative, symbolising not just a habit but a glimpse into the domestic rituals that punctuate his life.

Outside of Hockney’s self-portraits, his Digital Drawings continue to demonstrate his penchant for interior storytelling with works like Untitled No.557 and Waiting at York. Contrary to what some collectors might expect, Hockney's foray into digital mediums has unexpectedly enriched his oeuvre. Instead of departing from the vibrancy of Hockney’s more analog compositions, these digital works help preserve their spirit and amplify their resonance.

Reflections in Photography: Hockney’s Self-Portrait Photography

Included in his Photographs collection, Dachshunds immediately charms with its depiction of Hockney and his beloved canine companion nestled in his arms. The monochromatic tones of this photograph strip away the distraction of colour, focusing attention on the contrasting expressions: the dog exudes calmness and a deliberate gaze, while Hockney, unable to fully conceal his affection, boasts a big smile to peek from behind his furry friend.

This juxtaposition not only highlights the deep bond shared between the artist and his pet but also can be viewed as a metaphor for Hockney's exploration of emotional and physical spaces. Captured in what appears to be a studio or workspace, the setting adds layers of intimacy and authenticity to the photograph, reinforcing its narrative depth. This image, beyond its immediate charm, invites viewers to consider the relationship between Hockney's artistic practice and his personal life, offering a nuanced portrait of companionship and creative sanctuary.

In the Photographs series specifically, Hockney manages to incorporate himself or his own self-portrait in works centred around other subjects. In Peter Washing, Belgrade, September, we see Hockney's reflection, taking the portrait, in the bathroom mirror. This subtle inclusion of his own image serves as a clever narrative device where Hockney not only documents the world around him but also embeds himself within it, offering a personal dimension to each photograph.

"In all of these different types of formats, we have the same connection with the human presence that is in front of him, and not just the outward representation, but the inner representation."
Colin B. Bailey, Director of The Morgan Library and Museum

Introspection and Identity in Hockney’s Self-Portraits

Through his self-portraits, Hockney navigates the complexities of self-awareness, unveiling layers of emotion and thought that shape the landscape of personal identity. Each piece serves as a mirror, not only for the artist himself but also for the audience, prompting a contemplation of one's own sense of self.

A recurring theme in Hockney's work is the passage of time and its impact on identity. His evolving self-representations capture the inevitable changes wrought by ageing, yet they do more than record his physical transformation. They probe the psychological implications of time’s passage, reflecting on how experiences, relationships, and shifting perspectives shape the individual's psyche. Hockney’s portrayal of himself in various stages of life—from the vigour of youth to the contemplative hues of his later years—reveals a profound engagement with the concept of identity as a fluid, evolving entity, rather than a fixed point.

Mastery and Experimentation: Hockney's Lithographic Self-Portraits

Hockney's engagement with lithography as a medium for self-portraiture offers a unique lens through which to view his evolution and mastery of printmaking techniques. This exploration not only underscores his versatility as an artist but also highlights his continuous experimentation with different mediums to express the nuances of identity. Hockney's lithographic self-portraits, characterised by their simplicity and texture, stand as a testament to his skill in manipulating the lithographic process to achieve a wide range of expressive possibilities.

In his Self Portrait print, Hockney exploits the lithograph's potential for both precision and spontaneity, blending detail with fluid, gestural lines. This duality may suggest a mirroring of his identity, capturing both the stability and the flux inherent in the self. This medium allows Hockney to navigate the balance between the technical constraints of lithography and his endless creative vision, producing works that consistently resonate with viewers.

The Market Value of David Hockney’s Self-Portrait Prints

Hockney's self-portraits not only stand as pivotal explorations but also as valuable assets in the art market, showcasing remarkable growth and collector interest. Hockney’s Self Portrait (signed) holds an estimated value ranging between £5,500 and £8,000, and has seen a significant appreciation over the past five years. This piece's rarity is underscored by its limited appearance at auction, having been sold only three times since its initial sale in April 2011.

In contrast, one of Hockney’s digital works, Self Portrait, created in 1986, presents a higher market position, with an estimated value up to £40,000. The fluctuation in hammer prices, from £26,395 in October 2023 to a peak of £45,000 in September 2023, indicates a consistent value growth at an average annual rate of 21%. With seven total sales at auction since its market introduction in October 2008 and an edition size limited to 60, this digital print exemplifies both the desirability and scarcity that drive its market value.

Similarly, Self-Portrait II is estimated to be worth between £27,000 and £40,000, reflecting the premium placed on Hockney’s digital print artworks. Despite a more modest growth rate of 2% annually, auction prices have ranged from £21,302 in December 2022 to £29,762 in September 2019. With only two total sales and an edition size of 25, this artwork's exclusivity is a key factor in its valuation.

Hockney’s Unending Journey of Self-Discovery

Hockney’s self-portraits are a testament to a never ending journey of self-discovery and experimentation that defines his legacy. Through the evolving canvases of his own likeness, Hockney invites us into a relentless pursuit of understanding, a process mirroring the broader human condition. His self-portraits encapsulate a lifetime of exploration, from the tentative strokes of his early years to the bold digital expressions of his later life, each phase marked by an insatiable curiosity about the self and the medium of its portrayal.

These works are milestones along the path of Hockney’s career, showcasing his willingness to embrace change and to question the very nature of art and identity. They embody a dialogue between the artist and his medium, between the observer and the observed, offering insights into Hockney’s personal narrative as well as the universal experience of ageing, changing, and becoming.

As part of Hockney’s broader legacy, these self-portraits underscore his impact on the art world—not just as a painter, but as a philosopher of the visual, constantly challenging and redefining the boundaries of self-expression. They celebrate the unending journey of self-discovery, reminding us that to explore oneself is to explore the infinite possibilities of creativity.

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