David Hockney (b. 1937) is an artist, painter, draftsman, photographer, scenographer, and costume designer. His studies of art history, especially of the techniques of artists from the Renaissance, have made his works esteemed academic source. Hockney was inspired by the Old Masters (canonical European artists from 13th to 17th century). He imitated their formal and content-related methods, as well as a broader artistic attitude. His discoveries in art history (the theory of optical tools) and the introduction of new imaging methods (painting compositions presented on iPad screens) ensured him the status of one of the greatest living artists.
Let’s have a look at some surprising facts about David Hockney’s art.
- Hockney loves Renaissance
Let’s take a closer look at his cycle of double portraits painted at the end of the 1960s. Hockney returns here to the convention of naturalism, using Renaissance and traditional forms of imaging. Despite the use of the newest media and techniques, Hockney still refers to the achievements of the Renaissance artists. As in Old Masters’ pieces, the interiors are furnished with objects whose presence evokes symbolic associations. For instance, in the painting titled Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, we can see objects like a vase with lilies (an allusion to the scene of the Annunciation), a cat called Percy (betrayal), and yellow pages – the colour of which suggests jealousy, hypocrisy, or a dissolute life. His paintings constitute a kind of an artistic puzzle, and each of the viewers has the ability to make their own interpretation. It is worth to mention that the arrangements of the figures refer to the Renaissance sacred compositions. Hockney marks his presence through certain formal procedures on canvas, he introduces an element of a game with the viewer (such as Las Meninas painted by Diego Velazquez in 1656). Individual objects directly refer to the works of individual authors from the world of art and literature.
- Hockney experiments with Neo-Cubism
As early as 1982, Hockney began experimenting with photographic collages as part of research on Cubism and the ways of presenting pictorial space. This technique was also used in the context of the art of the Old Masters. Van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece inspired him to create the painting called Pearblossom Highway. Creating this image, Hockney meticulously moved in the landscape: constructing the composition through photographs with multiple viewpoints that were shot at very short distances. These treatments had the same effect – the width of the landscape and the depth, but were reduced to one plane. Presentation of the topic from various perspectives is an example of Hockney’s interest in the performance of a three-dimensional world through two-dimensional art forms.
- Still lifes play an important role in his artistic development
Commenting on this period of his painting activity, Hockney proclaimed that it was an issue that every creator who wants to experience reality has. This seemingly simple composition, devoid of strict artistic assumptions, liberation, it is a kind of a creative freedom, and it is an attempt that tests one’s abilities in the field of various painting issues. The first period in which a strong turn towards this issue can be noted is the 1970s. The artists deal with this topic in a way of relating to themes popular in art history and their own work. As in the cycle of double portraits, the author created modern compositions with traditional painting forms. Their awareness strengthens and deepens the reception of their works. Another strong turn towards portraying simple objects has been taking place over the 1990s. Hockney considered the subject of still lifes to be important in the context of his own artistic development. It seems that when he was composing still lifes, Hockney focused primarily on their shape and colour, as if he attached more importance to the study of the painting technique itself rather than the registration of objects (like Cezanne or Van Gogh).
- David Hockney’s pool paintings inspired movie director Luca Guadagnino’s film A Bigger Splash
David Hockney’s painting A Bigger Splash shows a view of the surface of an open pool against the background of a Californian hill. The composition is harmonious and sedate, the peace of which is disturbed by the titular splash, a ‘big splash’ that explodes a perfectly simple, geometric space.
In A Bigger Splash (2015) by Luca Guadagnino not only the way of framing the landscape seems to be similar, but also the role of the swimming pool as an object where the most important plot twists are played out.
The action of the film does not move forward, the characters do not open up to action – they are closed, so the world around them freezes. In Hockney’s painting, the appearance of human absence is key – no one is swimming or sunbathing, no one is seated in a chair in front of the building’s glass door. However, the splash suggests the presence of someone who has just jumped into the pool. The splash, a mixture of blue and white that is deposited on the canvas and resounds in the film with a loud impact, creates chaos – and with it life.
- His colourful compositions are an expression of cheerfulness and optimism in life
Despite such a great success, based on the interviews with Hockney it is possible to state that the purpose of his art is to simply entertain the viewer, to make them happy. Adopting modest attitude towards such great artistic achievements seems to be akin to content proclaimed by Jan van Eyck. By signing his works, Hockney emphasized that he painted them as he could. This statement seems disproportionate to the professional success that took place in the artist’s time. His paintings are characterised by bright, pastel colours that create vast, harmonious spaces, which undoubtedly has a soothing effect on the viewing experience.