60 Years of Art: David Hockney at Tate Britain
As the Tate Britain welcomes a retrospective of Hockney's work spanning his 60 year career, we pop by to see what all the fuss is about.
Words by Danielle Morgan
The last time I saw a decent display of Hockney's works gathered in one place, it was in Salts Mill in Saltaire, Bradford; the artists' hometown. Then, the works resonated with their surroundings so eloquently that I could quite happily never have looked at another Hockney again, safe in the knowledge that I had seen his works displayed in the place they truly belonged. When you consider that Hockney so frequently and consistently returns to the nature of his hometown, their residency in the Mill just felt... right. How then, will it feel in a few days time, revisiting his works in a place so far away from Yorkshire that I'm not entirely sure my reception of them will quite live up to the last.
With an extensive collection of painting, drawing, print and photography, Hockney assembles a new anthology of his work together for his latest stint at the Tate Britain.
But what does David Hockney have to do with me, I hear you ask? Well, quite a lot actually, the Alan Bennett of the art world, Hockney is a bit of a living legend. Apparently, he orders fresh weed (medicinal, of course) and sushi to his Hollywood home every day, spent his twenties and thirties hanging about with Bowie and Jack Nicholson and made some pretty bold outfit choices whilst he was at it. So, that's what.
Back to the exhibition! As you walk about, you are reminded that Hockney is constantly interrogating the world; what is the practice of making pictures and what does it mean to be alive? It is his representations of this idea that manifest themselves in the most expansive collection of his works to date.
From the style of his art to the subject matter, Hockney is consistently unapologetic. 'Why wouldn't you just paint the things you love?' he asks. And for him during the 1960s, when he was only just emerging onto the scene, that was boys. Hockney's early work was miles away from the straight lines and symmetry of his LA focus during the '60s and '70s. Cleverly woven throughout his abstract creations during this period is his sexuality, which, we're informed by the curators as we make our way around the exhibiton, by and large included his love for Cliff Richard, Walt Whitman and toilet graffiti. A theme running throughout his work, sex is a motif that is always revisited, his celebration of gay desire may not always be obvious, or perhaps in retrospect it is, but it is almost always there.
So too is Hockney's engagement with nature evident throughout. As you make your way through the rooms, you'd be hard pressed to not find at least one painting that references the natural world that he had immersed himself in. Whether Yorkshire, LA or somehwere in-between, Hockney is constantly trying to find alternative ways of describing the world around him that opposed the traditional perspective of a landscape.
For an artist who has placed artifice at the core of his work, the subjects he is relaying to us are anything but; a Yorkshire landscape, or a portrait of his parents. Often, we are looking at artifice (the painting itself) imitating reality (the subject). Clever, or obvious? Obvious perhaps, but Hockney is unapologetic about that. Hockney's paintings are undoubtedly easy on the eye and he is saying that's ok; there's nothing wrong with popular art.
This fascination with the natural world comes hand in hand with the humanist approach to Hockney's work. At the centre of the images he is trying to create is always the viewer; how we see and experience the world is what Hockney is trying to get across through his simplified use of block colour and pattern.
When asked about his thoughts on photography Hockney himself said it was ok if you were a one eyed Cyclops looking at the world for a split second with one eye, or words to that effect. He didn't like it then? How then should we approach the photography section of the exhibition? Perhaps his words go some way towards explaining why Hockney can't take a straight photograph. Every piece in this room has been chopped up and stuck back together in a cubist style mish-mash that frankly, we were loving. Especially the one of his mum wrapped up in a rain mac outside Bradford Cathedral!
Surprisingly, or perhaps not, depending on how much attention you pay to Hockney's work, the last room of the exhibition throws up some interesting ways the 80 year old Yorkshire lad is keeping up with the times; iPhone and iPad drawings. How does Hockney chart the evolution of drawing and painting? Animation. He has created thousands upon thousands of these scaled down and simplified illustrations, their subject ranging from vases of flowers to portraits.
A lasting legacy or a fleeting fancy? Make of them what you will. It seems like Hockney isn't done with making art yet. We wonder what the next decade has in store?
David Hockney: 60 Years of Art is running at the Tate Britain until 29th May 2017. Grab tickets here.