Hockney’s Hotel California in New York

Decades of Hockney’s paintings, drawings, prints, photography and video at the Centre Pompidou

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. Centre Pompidou is currently showing these alongside his most famous works as part of a retrospective that covers at lésât 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.

Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, 1968. Private collection

Water extraordinarily depicted in California paintings and pools

Water is another central theme in Hockney’s works. On my fourth visit to the exhibition in London, 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

Tate 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 a Parisian 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 

After Tate Britain, the larger exhibition at the Centre Pompidou runs until 23 October 2017 with late openings every Thursday until 11pm, and will travel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in November.


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