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David Hockney

Always in tune with the times

David Hockney RA

David Hockney RA is one of the most important British artists of the 20th century – now in his eighties he retains the ability to create and design new things.

At the beginning of the pandemic, David Hockney captured the emergence of spring on his iPad, creating 116 new works in praise of the natural world.

These works have been printed on paper and are now on show at the RA

Royal Academy of Arts 11th August - 26th September 2021

David Hockney was born in 1937 in Bradford.

He is well known as a painter, draftsman, printmaker, stage designer and photographer. He attended Bradford Grammar School and Bradford College of Art before moving down to the Royal College of Art in London, where he studied from 1959 until 1962.

There he was awarded the Royal College of Art gold medal in 1962 in recognition of his mastery as a draughtsman and his innovative paintings.

References to his homosexuality appeared first in the titles of artworks such as 'Doll Boy' and 'Going to be Queen for Tonight'.

A fellow student, Kitaj, had suggested that they should simply paint what they liked and Hockney liked young men.

Drawing by David Hockney
Doll Boy – by David Hockney

At the Royal College of Art, Hockney featured in the exhibition Young Contemporaries in

February 1961, where his paintings hung alongside that of his colleagues: R B Kitaj, Allen

Jones, Patrick Caulfield and Peter Blake.

David Hockney’s remarkable early rise to fame in the profession was closely tied to his friend and dealer John Kasmin who bought Doll Boy from the Young Contemporaries exhibition.

As a student, under the Royal College’s rules, Hockney was not allowed to sign up with a

commercial gallery. Nevertheless, Kasmin persuaded the Marlborough Gallery to let him

show the artist’s work, having a few drawings and the occasional painting he could sell


Most of Hockney’s pictures were to do with boys, gay love and unrequited passions. He did, however, make a few works which reference contemporary consumer culture.

The Pop art movement was gathering momentum – which allowed him to be easily associated with such artists as Derek Boshier and Andy Warhol.

Drawing of tea box  - David Hockney
Typhoo tea – by David Hockney

Hockney was getting increasingly recognised and prizes and commissions helped to pay for a trip to New York in the summer of 1961. It was at this time he bleached his hair, establishing one of the characteristics that would secure his fame.

While in America, Hockney heard that, his friend, Kasmin had set up a gallery on his own.

He promptly signed a forward-dated contract to start exhibiting after leaving college.

By the time of his first exhibition at the Kasmin Gallery, towards the end of 1963, Hockney was a well-known figure.

He had fulfilled a commission for the Sunday Times colour supplement to travel to Egypt to record what he saw there. The feature was dropped due to the assassination of President John Kennedy on November 22, 1963, and amazingly enough, wasn’t published until nearly 50 years later.

Hockney moved to Los Angeles in 1964 and began painting palm trees, swimming pools, and the uninhibited life of the young men living there.

The Kasmin gallery showed his first painting of a Californian swimming pool in the 1965

exhibition. In 1967 he painted the now famous ‘A Bigger Splash’. By 1968, Los Angeles life was the focus of his art. Young men in the shower or in the pool, lawn sprinklers and grid-like modern office blocks made up his subject matter.

David Hockney painting of LA pool with a swimmer and an onlookern
Portrait of a pool with two figures – by David Hockey

The mid-1970s saw Hockney experimenting with photography. He went on to create his now famous photographic collages with Polaroids and snapshots.

In 1988 he bought a house and studio in Malibu, had a retrospective of work at the Los

Angeles County Museum of Art and created the first work of art transmitted by a fax machine.

A multi-talented resourceful artist, Hockney has always produced work using the technology of the day such as fax machines, laser photocopiers, computers and more recently iPhones and iPads.

He was still working on landscape paintings, photography, printmaking and stage designs for Opera and in 2007, the year of his 70th birthday, he completed the largest painting of his lifetime.

Possibly the largest en Plein air painting ever made. It was a sensation at the Royal

Academy’s Summer Exhibition. It measured 15 x 40 feet, comprising 50 canvases, each

painted outdoors. This was followed by the Royal Academy’s blockbuster David Hockney: A Bigger Picture which opened in 2012, featuring large-scale works inspired by the East Yorkshire landscape.

In 2013 Hockney returned to Los Angeles.

He began to return to portraiture.

In the months that followed, he became absorbed and created a series of artworks that became the 2016 exhibition.

Cover of catalogue from David Hockney art exhibition
David Hockney: 82 Portraits and 1 Still-life

In 2016 Westminster abbey commissioned Hockney to design a window in commemoration of the Queen’s reign. This was to replace the last of the clear glass windows in the 11th century building.

Stained glass window at Westminster Abbey – by David Hockney

David Hockney’s retrospective at Tate Britain in 2017 was the gallery’s most-visited ever. A staggering 478,082 people went to see the exhibit (including yours truly) in London.

In 2019 Hockney left Los Angeles after 55 years for Normandy, France.

He lived in the city that had made him famous, on and off since 1964.

It was rumoured that the move may have been prompted by the fact that it is illegal to smoke in public anywhere in LA. Hockney was more willing to give up Los Angeles than the luxury of smoking.

He bought his new house, in Normandy, on a whim and it is from there that he has

completed a new series of works. The works which will be exhibited at the Royal Academy capture the emergence of spring in the garden of his new home.

A bigger picture – painting by David Hockney
A bigger picture – by David Hockney

If you want to know more about this amazing artist this video is much more than just a

review of 2 exhibitions.

Revisit 2012’s ‘A Bigger Picture’, and ‘82 Portraits and One Still-Life’ from 2016 at the Royal Academy.

Exhibitions in the UK

2017 Tate Britain, London

2016 Royal Academy of Arts

2014 Dulwich Picture Gallery

2013 Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool – 25 Trees and Other Pictures by David Hockney, Salts Mill Saltaire, West Yorkshire, England

2012-13 Cartwright Hall Art Gallery, Bradford

2012 Whitworth Gallery, Manchester – Royal Academy of Arts

2010 Southbank Centre, London

2009 Nottingham Contemporary

2006 David Hockney: Graphics and Drawings, Andipa Gallery, London, England (solo) –

Kasmin’s Sixties, Kasmin Gallery, London, England

2000 Encounters: New Art from Old, National Gallery, London, England – David Hockney: A Print Retrospective, Alan Cristea Gallery, London, England (solo)

1999 Recent Etchings, Alan Cristea Gallery, London, England (solo)

1997 Flowers, Faces and Spaces, Annely Juda Fine Art, London, England – Drawing

Retrospective, Hamburg, Germany (travelled to Royal Academy of Art, London, England; Los

Angeles County Museum, Los Angeles, USA) (solo)

1988 David Hockney: A Retrospective, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA

(travelled to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; The Tate Gallery, London, UK)

(solo) Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago, USA

1981 Knoedler/Kasmin Gallery, London, England

1970 Retrospective, Whitechapel Gallery, London, England

1965 Kasmin Gallery, London, England

1963 Kasmin Gallery, London, England (solo)


Written by: Kris Mercer

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