"I prefer living in colour." – David Hockney
Inspired by the release of the film A Bigger Splash, a homage to the title of his most famous work: A Bigger Splash, we tell you all you need to know about the Yorkshire man and master, David Hockney.
David Hockney was born in Bradford on the 9 July 1937. He was not from a particularly affluent background, so at school in order to buy materials, apparently he would do dares: "Give me sixpence and I'll jump in the canal", and he sold his first painting for £10. At the Royal College of Art where he studied from 1959-63, he chose printmaking, where the materials were given out for free. Soon after he left the RCA, with the success of the exhibition Young Contemporaries (with Peter Blake), he would never need to worry about money and materials again. But he has continued to experiment with printmaking, and many other mediums, throughout his life. Hockney remains one of the most influential figures in pop art, and has worked as a printmaker, a draughtsman, a painter, a stage designer and a photographer. In 2011 he was voted Britain’s most influential artist of all time according to a poll of 1,000 British painters and sculptors – beating the likes of Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Gainsborough and many others to the top spot.
He Had A Love Of Literature, And Writers…
You would never have expected it judging from an excerpt of his school report age 13:”He still does not really believe that an artist needs occasionally to use words,” but, Hockney went on to have a great love affair with poetry and literature – as well as poets and writers – even writing books and screenplays himself (however, he never did like writing on demand – as we’ll get to shortly).
The influence of the poet Walt Whitman on the artist in his early years was of great importance, both to his inspiration and to his openness about his sexuality We Two Boys Together Clinging (1961) is a direct reference to the poem of the same name and Myself and My Heroes (1961) is of Whitman with both Hockney and Mahatma Gandhi.
Hockney would go on to create a series of etchings depicting the poems of poet CP Cavafy. John Rechy, whose novel City of Night was a huge influence to Hockney’s lithographs when he reached California; and his portfolio of etchings The Blue Guitar was inspired by Wallace Stevens' poem The Man with the Blue Guitar, which was in turn inspired by Picasso's The Old Guitarist – which Hockney loved. As well as being influenced by them, he also painted writers, including the likes of Christopher Isherwood, W.H. Auden and Steven Spender.
In a career that has assimilated and experiment with so many different interests, his love of literature remains a constant.
He Changed The Rules
Never one to follow orders for the sake of following orders (both he and his father were conscience objectors during the war), Hockney didn’t ever bow to pressure, even from the RCA. Though he was a popular and successful student, during the course of his final examination he refused to write the essay needed to pass, protesting he be judged purely on the basis of his art.
To this end, Hockney created a now famous, satirical sketch called The Diploma; and true to form, made 50 copies of it (a few of which are held at the Tate and V&A). Aware of his talent and expanding reputation, miraculously, the RCA decided to change its regulations and awarded Hockney the diploma.
He Has Seemingly Endless Versatility
Versatility is an attribute entirely synonymous with Hockney. He became a household name through his portraiture, then through his landscapes, pop art, collages, still lifes, photography, printmaking, cubism – the list goes on. As we mentioned, Hockney experimented with printmaking at college, as well as oil painting; on his move to California in 1964, Hockney would shift to acrylics to create his flat, bright, pop-art inspired pool-side views.
From here he would go on to create his series of etchings, and then his collages or ‘joiners’ as he calls them – cubist inspired patch-works of his photography.
From the mid 1980’s Hockney began incorporating modern technology into his work, in 1986 he used the ‘Quantel Paintbox’ programme – which allowed artists to draw and sketch directly on to the screen; then creating his first homemade prints on a photocopier in 1986. In the 1990’s he would move on to laser printers and fax machines, and since recent technological developments Hockney has been happily drawing away on iPads, revisiting California to paint Bigger Yosemite on his iPad – this and many other of his computer literate works were exhibited at his exhibition David Hockney: A Bigger Picture at the Royal Academy in 2012. Aside from all of this, Hockney has also designed the stages for Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress at the Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Richard Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Royal Opera House and he designed costumes and scenery for twelve opera arias for the TV broadcast of Plácido Domingo's Operalia in Mexico City (among many others).
He Has A Theory Named After Him
Well, you’d think he wouldn’t have the time, but, Hockney wrote a book. The book was based on a theory he put forward hypothesizing the potential of optical aides having been used to create Renaissance artworks, due to the remarkable level of detail, that he believed to be unobtainable without a visual aid – by “eyeballing it” alone. The theory, the Hockney-Falco thesis, is named after himself and physicist Charles M Falco, who collaborated with Hockney. The book Hockney wrote further to the thesis, Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters, has lead to many inspired debates between artists, art historians and scholars.
His Most Famous Works
Hockney has created many stunning images in many different mediums, but for most people, and certainly for pop art, it will always be A Bigger Splash. Other famous works include Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy – of fashion designers Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell (and cat), A Bigger Grand Canyon and more recently works such as Winter Timber and The Arrival of Spring.
In 2009 another of Hockney’s famous California paintings, Beverly Hills Housewife (1967) was sold for around $8 million.
Hockney was offered a knighthood but he declined. In January 2012 he accepted the Order of Merit.