David Hockney’s Artistic Homages
From Picasso to Chinese Scrolls

David Hockney’s The Arrival Of Spring In Woldgate East Yorkshire 11th May 2011. A digital print of an outdoor landscape with tall trees, flowers and ground that is multiple shades of pink.The Arrival Of Spring In Woldgate East Yorkshire 11th May 2011 © David Hockney 2011
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David Hockney

David Hockney

631 works

David Hockney has long captivated the art world with his vivid colours, intimate portraits, and incredible application of techniques. Renowned for his contributions to the Pop Art movement and for pioneering methods in photography, Hockney's work transcends categorisation, reflecting a deep engagement with the artistic heritage of both the West and the East. His canvases are rife with homages, from the cubist experiments of Picasso to traditional Chinese scroll paintings. In exploring Hockney's dialogues, one finds not just an artist repainting history, but a visionary redefining it, merging the canonical with the contemporary.

Matisse’s Influence on Hockney

To discern Henri Matisse’s influence on Hockney, we can look at several elements within Hockney’s works that mirror Matisse’s style. In The Arrival of Spring in 2011, the homage is visible not only aesthetically, but also in the underlying philosophy of art that Hockney seems to share with Matisse.

Colour and Light

Matisse was a master of using colour to play with light and space, and Hockney’s use of vibrant hues to transform the Yorkshire landscape suggests a deep understanding of Matisse’s techniques. The way Hockney's colours communicate the time of day and season, and evoke mood, echoes Matisse’s skill in conveying atmosphere through a symphony of pigments.

Freedom from Realism

In Matisse’s work, there is a departure from accurate depiction toward a more expressive representation, and Hockney’s landscapes follow suit. By freeing the form from its realistic constraints, both artists allow the viewer to experience the subject in a new way, which is less about replicating what the eye sees and more about what the heart feels.

Innovation and Adaptation

Matisse’s boldness in exploring new media, particularly in his later years with the cut-outs, is paralleled in Hockney’s adoption of digital technology. Both artists have shown a relentless pursuit of new methods to express time-honoured themes of beauty, nature, and light. Hockney’s digital brushwork serves as a direct companion to Matisse’s cut-paper shapes — each innovative for its time and a reflection of the artist’s willingness to adapt and experiment.

Spatial Composition

Matisse's flattening of space and his disregard for traditional perspective is a technique reflected in some of Hockney’s works, where the depth is often suggested through colour and form rather than through linear perspective, bringing a two-dimensional, almost playful flatness to the scenes.

By examining these aspects, it becomes evident that Hockney’s work is filled with a Matisse-like sensibility, reinterpreted through his own lens of personal expression.

Well, sometimes I’ll steal something from Van Gogh. I mean I do. Good artists don’t borrow, they steal.
David Hockney

Van Gogh's Influence on Hockney

Few homages are as compelling as Hockney's nod to Vincent Van Gogh. Hockney’s The Yosemite Suite, born out of digital media, provides a pronounced departure from Van Gogh's textured works on canvas. However, they share an emotional intensity that suggests a deep reverence for the Dutch icon. Hockney's application of bold, more uniform colours and defined outlines draws a visual distinction from Van Gogh’s dynamic skies and undulating fields, yet his compositions are just as deliberate. From the calculated cast shadows to the precise structural contours of the trees, Hockney's pieces feature a meticulous engagement with each landscape's unique characteristic.

Hockney – Van Gogh: The Joy of Nature

In a 2021 landmark exhibition, The Joy of Nature, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Hockney's and Van Gogh's kindred spirits have been juxtaposed to illustrate this very conversation. The show, featuring close to 50 of Hockney’s pieces along with select Van Gogh masterpieces, marks a pioneering moment—never before seen in a U.S. museum. It is here that Hockney's contemporary interpretations stand in concert with Van Gogh's historical canvases, emphasising a shared narrative of landscape art that stretches through time.

Picasso’s Influence on Hockney

Hockney's Photo Collages stand as a vivid homage to the revolutionary work of Pablo Picasso's Cubism. This unique series also features joiners, representing a pivotal exploration where Hockney directly confronts and converses with the Cubist paradigm of fragmentation and synthetic perspective.

In creating his collage works, Hockney takes a cue from the Cubist technique of dissecting and recontextualising subjects to present multiple viewpoints simultaneously. Rather than a seamless pictorial space, these collages are a patchwork of moments, with time and movement becoming integral elements. This method is informed by the Cubist concept of breaking down objects and scenes into geometric shapes and then piecing them together to portray the subject from multiple perspectives within the same context.

Another iconic piece that employs the Cubist principles of fragmentation and reassembling reality is Red Celia. In this monochromatic work, we witness the clear influence of Picasso's innovative approach to depicting his subjects. Hockney deconstructs his subject, Celia Birtwell, into angular facets, embracing Picasso's radical transformation of perspective. Hockney's rendition is not a replication but instead, a reinterpretation of Cubism's visual language, blending Picasso's boldness with his own style.

A Personal Dialogue

Hockney's engagement with Picasso's oeuvre is a testament to their shared pursuit of artistic truth and transformation. In his Influences series, Hockney delves into Picasso's world with an admiration that transcends technique. Hockney creates Artist And Model, an etching that portrays Picasso as the artist and Hockney as the subject. This piece captures a hypothetical interaction between the two artists, showcasing Hockney's deep respect for Picasso's legacy and their shared passion for exploring new artistic territories.

Hockney doesn't stop at portraying Picasso but also produces his own version of Picasso's personal muse, Dora Maar, in What Is This Picasso. Through these works, Hockney transforms his canvas into a stage where Picasso's influence is both a guest and a guide, inspiring an ongoing conversation between past mastery and present innovation. This artistic connection to Picasso shapes Hockney's oeuvre, enriching it with layers of meaning and a deep respect for the transformative spirit of art.

Day on the Grand Canal with the Emperor of China Trailer

The Impact of Chinese Scrolls

Traditional Chinese handscrolls, dating back over a thousand years, embodies a distinct aesthetic and artistic tradition. These scrolls are characterised by several key features that have captivated artists throughout history. Hockney, known for his openness to various influences, has openly expressed his admiration for the scroll format.

Chinese scroll paintings are renowned for their horizontal orientation, typically measuring several feet in length but only a few inches in height. This format allows for a unique storytelling approach, where the viewer unfolds the narrative gradually as they scroll through the artwork. Hockney's attraction to this format stems from its immersive quality. He has often remarked that it enables a more dynamic and continuous visual experience, quite different from the static rectangular canvas commonly used in Western art.

In 1988, Hockney co-directed A Day on the Grand Canal with the Emperor of China. The film showcases Hockney's exploration and interpretation of a Chinese scroll painting, The Kangxi Emperor's Southern Inspection Tour, by the 17th-century artist Wang Hui. This documentary was a beautiful dissection of Eastern aesthetics through a Western lens that illustrated Hockney's deep-seated respect for the format. Hockney credited Chinese handscrolls for allowing him to see perspective, an element that has without a doubt become one of Hockney’s signature attributes.

I discovered this was a Chinese principle called moving focus… and you can convert time to space.
David Hockney

David Hockney’s Moving Focus

Hockney's Moving Focus series presents a fascinating study in the adoption of Eastern techniques within a Western framework. Notable among these is Hotel Acatlán: Second Day which stands out for its energetic colour palette in addition to its multiple viewpoints. What further enhances this work is its progression of varied perspectives over time, in a very literal sense. Hockney revisits them in Hotel Acatlán: Two Weeks Later where we see the same subject, but this time from inside the hotel. While these works are a bit more obvious in their kinship to Chinese scrolls due to their dimensions and composition, other works in this suite are where we see the full extent of Hockney's control over the viewer's attention.

Interior pieces like Pembroke Studio With Blue Chairs And Lamp and Tyler Dining Room, showcases Hockney’s interplay of detail and form. At first glance, viewers may consider his patterns and vibrant textures as purely decorative. However, considering the source of inspiration, it’s easier to recognise the relationship to the scrolls in Hockney’s ability to reveal a panoramic view within a relatively confined space.

Number One Chair features a wicker chair, set against pink floral cushions, which immediately captures the viewer’s focus. The wood-grained floor around it is segmented into shapes that play off one another, directing the eye and highlighting the work's dynamic structure. Through this fusion of perspective and place, Hockney not only honours Eastern traditions but also enriches the dialogue between different cultures within the art world.

Hockney's Evolution Into Digital Art

Hockney's foray into digital artistry marks a significant evolution in his creative journey, seamlessly blending his traditional artistry with the burgeoning realm of digital technology. With the launch of the iPad in 2010, Hockney found a new canvas that complemented his insatiable appetite for innovative mediums. This shift from tangible sketchbooks to the virtual space didn’t diminish the essence of his work; instead, it infused his practice with unprecedented vibrancy and spontaneity. His Digital Drawings came alive with a fresh array of subjects, from the serene domesticity of his living room to the natural beauty of Yosemite, all captured with the characteristic Hockney flair.

The Essence of Hockney: Bridging Mediums and Memories

Throughout the span of his career, David Hockney has demonstrated a remarkable ability to retain the core of his artistic identity while navigating across a multitude of mediums. Whether it is through the lens of a camera, the bristles of a paintbrush, or the pixelated precision of digital tools, the essence of his style—marked by bright hues, emotive landscapes, and intimate portraits—remains undiluted. Hockney’s journey through different artistic expressions is less about alteration and more about expansion. His use of photography in the '70s, the textured layers of acrylic in the '80s, and the touch screens of the 21st century all bear the signature of his vivid palette and insightful observation. This continuity within change is Hockney’s trademark. It speaks to an artist who respects his roots while constantly reaching for new means to express the enduring questions of representation and perception.

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