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Critical Review

Hockney’s fascination with flowers has spanned his entire career, and this series emphasises his explorations into the still-life genre. From the late ’60s to his most recent exhibition of digital paintings the natural world has played an important role in the development of the artist’s unique style.

Flowers have always been an important part of the still life genre, featuring in over the top bouquets in Dutch 17th century paintings or in looser configurations for the subject by modernists such as Matisse, and Hockney’s interest in them appears to be academic as well as aesthetic. Taking tulips, lilies, godetia or daisies as his subject he produces careful studies of each flower, that, appearing as spontaneous and vivid as his sketches, belie the many hours of observation of space and light that have made him the master of optics he is today.

With this collection of works we also see Hockney moving deftly across the various techniques encompassed by the medium of print. From muted lithographs featuring his cross hatching style – which in turn refers back to earlier masters he admired such as Hogarth and Morandi – to more expressionist etchings such as Four Flowers In A Vase, Hockney shows his mastery of print to great effect when depicting flowers. An etching entitled Marguerites sees him taking the medium in another direction, reproducing a watercolour effect to convey the delicacy of these fresh flowers. Later lithographs and intaglios such as Potted Daffodils and Vase and Flowers sees him returning to a darker palette, to inject an almost photorealist style in the case of the former, and, in the latter, a sharp graphic line that recalls some his earlier Illustrations For Fourteen Poems By C.P. Cavafy and Illustrations For Six Fairy Tales From The Brothers Grimm.

Why is the Flowers collection important?

With works such as Four Flowers in Still Life we see Hockney pushing the boundaries of the subject and medium once again. Here the flowers are anything but muted, taking centre stage in their sinuous vessels, their stems overflowing across the composition in a way that recalls his still life Table Flowable.

Dating from 2010, Lilacs shows Hockney’s enduring fascination with flowers translated into his latest medium, the digital drawing. Throughout his career Hockney has always found ways to challenge himself, to push the boundaries of print, whether through buying an office photocopier to produce the series Home Made Prints or applying himself to the study of a particular technique used by Picasso. Speaking in 1980 the artist stated, “I love new mediums … I think mediums can turn you on, they can excite you: they always let you do something in a different way”. In 2010 the first Apple iPad was released and Hockney’s printmaking technique was once again transformed. The portability of the screen revolutionised how he worked, allowing him to make digital drawings en plein air as well as indoors which could then be reproduced as giclee prints.

While he may be best known for his pools and his portraits, Hockney’s love of flowers is a cornerstone of his oeuvre. Representing his fascination with the natural world married with the artifice of the still life, they are the subject of some of his most delicate and moving works.

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