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David Hockney began experimenting with photo collages in the early ’80s. The prints in this series reflect Hockney’s interest in optics, seeing him extend his experimentation to family, friends, landscapes, and interiors. The singular viewpoint set rigidly as an artistic standard in comparatively recent history becomes once again mutable in Hockney’s composite images.

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Meaning & Analysis

Always one to experiment with the boundaries of a medium, Hockney’s almost-cubist Photo Collages play with perspective and fragmentation.

Always one to experiment with the boundaries of a medium, Hockney’s almost-cubist Photo Collages play with perspective and fragmentation. He had long been interested in photography and its potential to fragment a scene into its disparate parts but while earlier collages saw him arranging photographs in a grid, in these later works he overlays the images to create a Cubist effect. He called these works ‘joiners’. Allowing for movement and fluidity in perspective Hockney believed these pieces were closer to how the eye actually sees, whereas one image, taken by a lens from just one angle, cannot come anywhere near the physical perception of a person, object or scene.

The works in this collection reflect Hockney’s long running interest in optics and perspective and sees him extend it onto family members and friends as well as landscapes and interiors. We are presented with familiar figures from his prints such as Ann Upton, Celia Birtwell and Gregory Evans as well as familiar settings such as the Grand Canyon and the pool of his home in Los Angeles. Whereas before Hockney had dismissed photography as ‘All right if you don’t mind looking at the world from the point of view of a paralysed cyclops-for a split second,’ here we see him engaged in a new fascination with the medium. After so long challenging himself across the mediums of paint and print it is unsurprising that he would finally come round to the medium that descends is often described as ‘drawing with light’. What he saw as a fixed viewpoint became something fluid and dynamic when doubled endlessly to create a composite image.

With works such as Freda Bringing Ann & Me A Cup Of Tea he pushes the medium even further, allowing the coloured background to add another element to the composition, while details of the scene spiral out from the middle. Meanwhile in George, Blanche, Celia, Albert And Percy, London, January the traditional family portrait is subverted, the many photographs adding layers of time and movement, documenting changes in expression and light, to become a tableau vivant.

One of Hockney’s most famous works in this collection is Walking In The Zen Garden At The Ryoanji Temple, which shows the famous Japanese garden only lightly fragmented, its quiet seriousness lifted by the repetition of the mismatched red and black socks at the bottom of the frame. This way of making prints became a crucial part of Hockney’s work while travelling and there are a number of photo collages from Japan as well as numerous road trips in America, including a composite image of the view from the south rim of the Grand Canyon which adds another layer of complexity to this already unfathomable landscape.

10 Facts About David Hockney's Photo Collages

David Hockney's Sunday Morning Nov 28th 1982 Mayflower Hotel N.Y. A photo collage of the interior of a hotel room.

Sunday Morning Nov 28th 1982 Mayflower Hotel N.Y © David Hockney 1982

1. Hockney was a photography sceptic

“I mean, photography is all right if you don't mind looking at the world from the point of view of a paralyzed Cyclops–for a split second. But that’s not what it’s like to live in the world.” - David Hockney

David Hockney was initially hesitant about the limitations of photography, expressing reservations about its static and singular perspective. However, his appreciation for the medium dramatically blossomed after curator Alain Sayag convinced him to present his work in Paris.

David Hockney's Freda Bringing Ann & Me A Cup Of Tea. A photo collage of a small group of friends having tea outdoors.

Freda Bringing Ann & Me A Cup Of Tea © David Hockney 1983

2. He revitalised Cubism through photography

Hockney's work in photography was deeply influenced by the principles of Cubism. Rather than presenting a singular viewpoint, he embraced Cubism's multi-faceted approach, breaking down scenes into fragmented parts and then reassembling them, creating a dynamic interplay between different perspectives in a single photographic collage. This approach showcased how the avant-garde art movement could be reimagined and revitalised through modern photographic techniques.

David Hockney's Luncheon At The British Embassy, Tokyo, February 16th 1983. A photo collage of the interior of The British Embassy with mean seated at a table.

Luncheon At The British Embassy, Tokyo, February 16th 1983 © David Hockney 1982

3. Polaroids completely transformed his technique

Hockney's approach evolved to incorporate a unique method of showcasing multiple perspectives in a singular piece through his innovative Polaroid compositions. These weren't just standalone artworks; they also served as a strategic tool. Beyond his collage creations, Hockney utilised these multifaceted images as foundational blueprints, guiding the structure and layout of his subsequent paintings.

David Hockney's Anne And David, Central Park, N.Y. Dec. A man and woman sitting on a bench at Central Park during the winter time.

Anne And David, Central Park, N.Y. Dec © David Hockney 1982