Arguably the most well-known of Britain’s living artists, David Hockney has long been a venerated, intriguing and controversial gure within the world of art. The Yorkshire-born painter, a leading contributor to the Pop Art movement that made celebrities of the likes of Andy Warhol in the 1960s, has seen his versatile subject matter, from Los Angeles swimming pools to the moors and woodlands of his Yorkshire home, become renowned. In 2017, with Hockney on the verge of his 80th birthday, he’s getting the national treasure treatment. From February, Tate Britain will be hosting the most comprehensive exhibition of his work to date, and what better excuse to look back at the career of a man who has forever split opinion with his work, views, and enigmatic personality.
Born in Bradford in 1937, from a young age Hockney was determined to pursue a career attached to his love of art. His days at Bradford Grammar School are marked by this steely resolve – a baffling teaching system that reserved the subject of Art only for the lowest academically achieving students led the highly intelligent Hockney to rebel, allowing his grades in other subjects to suffer to gain access to arts tuition.
A 22 year-old Hockney went on to study at the Royal College of Art in 1959, cementing his drawing ability while making a considerable amount from his work selling his sketches in the many parks around London.
Hockney’s appearance and personality often stood out as much as his art – with bottle-blonde hair, wacky clothing and trademark spectacles, it was only when he truly started to represent his personality and interests in his paintings that Hockney’s career began its heady ascent.
Most prominently, this was represented by the fact that from a young age, Hockney had begun to realise he was gay. His love of Walt Whitman’s poetry (a notably early and successful homosexual in the arts world) provided an initial outlet for his sexual identity, but only when he began to express it in his own painting did Hockney manage to find his true muse. Thus followed a series of artworks depicting basic male figures conducting oral sex upon each other, romantic scenes between male protagonists and, most famously, touching representations of gay love affairs, best depicted in his 1966 painting Peter Getting Out of Nick’s Pool, displayed in Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery.
Until 1967, homosexual activity was pro- hibited by law in the UK, and so it was that Hockney found a more libertarian home in the accepting society and seeming utopia of California, USA. Thus was born what became the trademark of Hockney’s career; his amazing, iri- descently emotional swimming pool scenes, reimagining the use of water in painting in his inimitable Pop Art style. His renown in Los Angeles became such that his subjects even- tually evolved from his friends, acquaintances and lovers, to celebrities, a number of anony- mous stars submitting to the role of artist’s model, according to Hockney.
Soon, though, Hockney’s subject matter returned to his homeland of West Yorkshire, painting Pop Art-style interpretations of the county’s famed moors and woodland. His imaginative use of colour highlights the beauty of industrial Bradford and adds mystery to winding roads and undulating hills. In later years, he has attempted to evolve in conjunction with the art world, releasing exclusive pieces composed entirely on an iPad; a nod to the simultaneously changing worlds of art and technology.
Hockney has, for the best part of 60 years, dominated a British artistic landscape that is all too often criminally underrepresented on the international stage. But his tenacity and vision has paid off and Hockney has managed to nd global acclaim while sticking to his roots, and all within his lifetime, affording him a privilege many artists never get to enjoy. The exhibition of his collected works at Tate Britain aims to form the most inclusive display of Hockney yet, intending to stand as a testament to the enduring power of one of the nation’s most influential artists.