David Hockney – Life, Career & Where He is Now

Bradford-born David Hockney has become one of the most influential figures in modern art. Throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, he was involved in the British pop art movement.

In the latter decades, Hockney decided to turn his palette closer to home. He created a series of photographs and abstract paintings of his beloved Yorkshire.

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Growing Up

David Hockney was born on the 9th of July in 1937. He was the 2nd oldest out of five kids. 

As he was growing up, Hockney attended local schools in Bradford. These were Wellington Primary School and Bradford Grammar School.

Early Influences

Hockney grew up in wartime Bradford. It was during this time that he was exposed to his earliest influences who were the great impressionist painters Picasso and Francis Bacon, an Irish born painter renowned for his bold and raw imagery.

A young Hockney was actively encouraged by his parents who believed in his work. They pushed him to express his creative ideas and doodles to the rest of his family.


The Start of Hockney’s Career

In 1953, David decided to join the Bradford College of Art and stayed there until 1957. Throughout his time at the art college, he was taught to draw still life, portraits, and city landscapes.

By the time he finished college, Hockney had already 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.

Young Contemporaries

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, in 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.

These included comics, advertising, and pop music often accompanied by bright abstract colours. This movement caused an earthquake in British art and horrified critics with their use of such low subject matter.

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

Earlier Works

Throughout his earlier works, Hockney included elements of his personal life. 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).

Hockney had been heavily influenced by Hollywood films throughout his childhood. As a result, he eventually moved to Los Angeles in 1966 which proved to be the inspiration featured in his next set of work.

These paintings were called “The Swimming Pools of L.A” along 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 1970’s saw David Hockney first experiment with a series of etchings produced in 1976. They were inspired by a poem written by poet Wallace Stevens called “The Man with the Blue Guitar.”

Exploring Different Techniques

In the 1980’s, Hockney decided to increase the range of his art. He began exploring different techniques as a way to express himself.

Throughout the first half of this decade, Hockney dropped his paintbrush in favour of a camera lens. His innovative production techniques led to some pioneering works. The first of the “Joiner Portraits”  were created by accident during the production of an earlier painting; however they 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 70’s and 80’s, David Hockney began working on set designs for various opera and ballet productions.

By the late 1980’s, Hockney picked up his paintbrush once again and created a series made up 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.

Returning to Yorkshire

In the early 90’s, the artist frequently returned to Yorkshire in order to visit his elderly mother. Eventually, Hockney decided to take up residence in Bridlington and moved back to God’s Own County.

The local surroundings of this Yorkshire seaside resort along with its 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. These included Garrowby Hill (1998) and the twenty seven feet long “25 trees” (2011) which were based on those along Bessingby Road, Bridlington.

Exhibitions & Permanent Collections

Over the decades, David Hockney has had numerous exhibitions and permanent collections displayed in his name. His first solo exhibition called “Pictures with People In” was back in 1963. 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.

Hockney’s Largest Exhibition

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 includes much of his Yorkshire inspired work. The exhibition is a fine example of the variety of techniques used by the artist.

Included in this are also pictures that have been 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

Known Throughout the World

David Hockney’s art is known throughout the world. It has many other permanent collections at places such as The Pace gallery in New York, The National Gallery in Australia, The Tate in 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 was 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.

It covers an area of around 420 square miles across the East Riding. The area and Hockney’s art has proven so popular that some local art-lovers spend their time looking for the locations of some of his paintings.

Hockney’s Mark on Pop Culture

Even in his older years, Hockney continues to leave his mark on pop culture. In 2005, Burberry centred their spring/summer collection around him. Then, in 2013, GQ named him one of the most stylish men in Britain.

Hockney was also the subject of a 1974 biopic called “A Bigger Splash,” named after one of his most famous pop art paintings.

In 2008, the artist set up The David Hockney Foundation. This was to oversee his extensive art collection and help educate the public to appreciate modern art.

Where is Hockney Now?

Hockney is still in his studio, he continues to create new works and embraces modern technologies. In May 2015, another collection was unveiled at a London exhibition that features painting with a 3D perspective. Hockney has no plans to retire.

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