Six decades of Hockney’s paintings, drawings, prints, photography and video at Tate Britain
Perhaps not surprisingly, I am fonder of David Hockney’s paintings in California, to which he was drawn by the relaxed and sensual way of life. The Royal Academy recently displayed a portraiture-focused exhibition David Hockney: 82 Portraits and 1 Still-Life and in 2012, landscape works in David Hockney: A Bigger Picture. Tate Britain is currently showing these alongside his most famous works as part of a retrospective that covers six decades’ worth of paintings, drawings, print, photography and video.
Homosexuality and homoeroticism are central to Hockney’s oeuvre
Homosexuality and homoeroticism are central to Hockney’s oeuvre. Before including direct references to homoeroticism, his early 1960s paintings touched upon themes of sex and love, close to the time of the decriminalisation of homosexuality. The work ‘Shame’ (1960) might refer to homosexuality or more evidently in ‘We Two Boys Together Clinging’. In a 1968 portrait of Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, Hockney makes a conventional double portrait of a couple in Los Angeles, “normalising” their (gay) relationship.
Water extraordinarily depicted in California paintings and pools
Water is another central theme in Hockney’s works. On my fourth visit to the exhibition, I was still captivated by the water effects in his California paintings. Hockney established his permanent home in LA in 1976. In California, everybody had a swimming pool, Hockney discovered. ‘A Bigger Splash’ from Tate Britain’s permanent collection shows the marvellous and arduous details of his depiction of water. In ‘A Lawn Being Sprinkled’ (1967) – which I missed on my first three visits – triangles of thin white acrylic paint, although geometrically simple, create atmospheric and thin water droplets.
A Lawn Being Sprinkled, 1967. Private collection
Hockney’s solution to the trap of naturalism = cubism
Curator Chris Stephens described how naturalistic representations of the human figure were key in Hockney’s work and how later on, the artist was keen to avoid the “trap of naturalism”. Hockney’s solution was cubism and he was influenced by the work of Picasso which he saw repeatedly at the MoMA retrospective in 1980. He first executed “cubist” photography using Polaroid to create collages and images seen from multiple positions and perspectives. His cubist investigation culminated in his films: in ‘The Four Seasons’, Hockney attached nine cameras to a slow-driving Land Rover showing the same scenes at multiple angles.
Gregory Swimming Los Angeles March 31st 1982. Composite Polaroid. Collection of the artist.
I noted his small vertical touches of paint from the beginning became thicker and more forceful in his depiction of the Hollywood hills, his Yorkshire Van Gogh-like paintings or his iPad drawings. Homoeroticism and pools in California are Hockney’s signature, but it is worth seeing the rest of his works as well. I am looking forward to my fifth visit where I hope to sit down and immerse myself in Hockney’s Four Seasons.
Peter Getting Out of Nick’s Pool, 1966. National Museums Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery
David Hockney runs at Tate Britain until 29 May 2017, with extended opening hours – until 10pm every Friday and Saturday. The exhibition will travel to Centre Pompidou, Paris (21 June 2017 – 23 October 2017) in June and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in in November.