People of Yorkshire volume 4 – David Hockney

Bradford-born David Hockney has become one of the most influential figures in modern art. Throughout the 1950s and 60s he was involved in the British pop art movement, while in latter decades turned his pallet closer to home with a series of photographs and abstract paintings of his beloved Yorkshire.

As he grew up in wartime Bradford his earliest influences were the great impressionist painters such as Picasso and Francis Bacon, an Irish born painter renowned for his bold and raw imagery. A young Hockney was actively encouraged by his parents to express his ideas and doodles to the rest of his family. In 1953 he joined the Bradford College of Art and stayed there until 1957, where he was taught to draw still life, portraits and city landscapes. Already, Hockney had sold his first work to the 1957 Yorkshire Artists exhibition at Leeds gallery, which was a portrait of his father. Like his parents he was a conscientious objector to active military service and spent two years working at a hospital instead.

Hockney became involved with the Young Contemporaries, along with other like-minded artists, such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Their “New Generation” exhibition at Whitechapel Art Gallery in London in 1964 of which Hockney was prominent, first displayed to the public a new art form known as “Pop Art.” This new wave of work turned its back on traditional methods of production and subject matter. They concentrated on displaying items used in popular culture, such as comics, advertising, and pop music, often with bright abstract colours. This movement caused an earthquake in British art and horrified critics with their use of such low subject matter.
Hockney also included elements of his personal life in earlier works. He was openly gay from a young age and this was reflected in some of his paintings, such as, “We Two Boys together are clinging,” (1961) and “Domestic Scene: Los Angeles,” (1963).

David Hockney & Lucian Freud - dou_ble_you - Flickr - CC
David Hockney & Lucian Freud – dou_ble_you – Flickr – CC

Throughout his childhood Hockney had been heavily influenced by Hollywood films. Eventually he moved to Los Angeles in 1966 and this inspiration featured in his next set of work, known as “The Swimming Pools of L.A, with its most famous painting of the series, “A Bigger Splash,” created in 1967. Another painting in the same year called, “Peter getting out of Nick’s pool,” was recognised with the John Moores Painting Prize in Liverpool. The 1970s saw him first experiment with a series of etchings produced in 1976, which were inspired by a poem by Wallace Stevens, called “The Man with the Blue Guitar.”
In the 1980s Hockney increased the range of his art, exploring different techniques to express himself. Throughout the first half of this decade he would drop his paintbrush in favour of a camera lens and his innovative production techniques led to some pioneering work. The “joiner portraits,” the first of which were created by accident during the production of an earlier painting, became a centrepiece of Hockney’s exhibitions. He did this by cutting 35mm colour prints and mounting them to create interesting arrangements of abstract faces. Throughout the 70s and 80s he also began working on set designs for various opera and ballet productions.

By the late 1980s Hockney picked up his paintbrush once again and created a series of seascapes, flower paintings and portraits. This era also saw him begin to use technology in his work, utilising laser fax machines and printers for the first time.
The artist, in the early ‘90s frequently returned to Yorkshire in order to visit his elderly mother and eventually took up residence in Bridlington. The local surroundings of this Yorkshire seaside resort and the neighbouring Wolds inspired many of his paintings throughout this decade and into the 21st Century. Some well-known East Yorkshire landmarks were given the Hockney treatment, including Garrowby Hill (1998) and the twenty seven-foot long “25 trees,” (2011) which were based on those along Bessingby Road, Bridlington.

Over the decades David Hockney has had numerous exhibitions and permanent collections displayed in his name. His first solo exhibition was way back in 1963 and called “Pictures with People In.” It was based at art-dealer, John Kasmin’s gallery in London. Another was in 1970 at the scene of where Pop Art had begun, Whitechapel Art Gallery London. Having helped launch this new concept with his like-minded friends, six years earlier the 1970 collection was a retrospective look at his art over that era.

David Hockney’s largest exhibition is located in his native Bradford at Saltaire, largely due to his friendship with local entrepreneur, Jonathan Silver, who had bought the site in 1987. Part of the renovation of this model village included the creation of three art galleries inside the mill. Over three hundred pieces of Hockney’s art are now installed in the 1853 gallery and include much of his Yorkshire-inspired work. The exhibition is a fine example of the variety of techniques used by the artist and includes pictures generated by modern technologies, such as iphones and ipads in recent years. Amongst the collection are also a series of portraits of Jonathan Silver before his death in 1997.

Hockney's artwork on display inside Salt's Mill in Saltare. Picture credit: Jonathan Rudd
Hockney’s artwork on display inside Salt’s Mill in Saltaire. Picture credit: Jonathan Rudd

David Hockney’s art is known throughout the world and has many other permanent collections at places such as The Pace gallery, New York, The National Gallery in Australia, The Tate, London plus others in Austria, Denmark, Paris and Tokyo to name but a few. Although his roots lay in the cobbled streets of wartime Bradford, his local inspiration were not from the well-trodden Dales, but the often forgotten Yorkshire Wolds. The area of which many of his Yorkshire paintings derive from is known as “Hockney Country” in art circles and covers an area of around 420 square miles across the East Riding. Some local art-lovers spend their time looking for the locations of some of his paintings.

Even in his older age, Hockney has still left his mark on popular culture. In 2005 Burberry centred their spring/summer collection around him, while GQ named him one of the most stylish men in Britain in 2013. He was also the subject of a 1974 biopic, called “A Bigger Splash,” named after one of his famous Pop art paintings. In 2008 he set up The David Hockney foundation to oversee his extensive art collection and help educate the public in appreciation of modern art.

At the age of 77, the artist is still in his studio, creating new works and embracing modern technologies. His latest collection, unveiled in May 2015 at a London exhibition features paintings with a 3D perspective. Approaching eighty years old he has no plans to retire.

David Hockney is now renowned as one of the greatest living artists, whose influence on 20th Century art has led to a better acceptance of modern, abstract techniques and an appreciation of the East Yorkshire countryside.

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