With the arrival of a hi-tech, autobiographical exhibition in London, we explore the ongoing influence of David Hockney, the Yorkshire-born artist who pioneered the British Pop Art movement and continues to innovate well into his eighth decade.
As the world’s top-selling living artist, to describe David Hockney as prolific is an understatement. Ever since he secured his first show immediately after graduating from London’s Royal College of Art in 1962, his creative output has been prodigious and includes some of the most recognisable works of the 20th century.
Hockney’s bright and luminous painting style first achieved critical acclaim in 1963 with his debut solo show in London, cheekily named ‘Pictures with People In’. Right from the start, he used autobiographic subject matter for his compositions, referencing friends, his home life and his sexuality.
Despite the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain still being years away, Hockney, as a young gay man, didn’t shy away from exploring his sexual orientation in his work. His move to Los Angeles in 1964 transformed his style and subject matter, with the sunny, sexually liberated atmosphere seeping into his paintings. Instantly struck by the sheer ubiquity of swimming pools in California, his time in LA kickstarted a lifelong fascination with the appearance of water – the subject of some of his most famous works, including the 1966 masterpiece The Splash.
A definitive image in the Pop Art movement, the splash of the water contrasts strongly with the geometric order of the painting, creating a jarring effect that is a Hockney hallmark. While many Pop Artists of the time were focussing on consumerism and everyday items, Hockney wanted to make art accessible and fun. Using the aesthetic vocabulary of Pop Art, his warm and familiar images, including portraits of friends, family and lovers, earned him a reputation as one of the leading proponents of British Pop Art and, as his career progressed, a place in the greater canon of art history itself.
In 2006, The Splash sold for £2.9 million at auction before being resold in 2020 to an anonymous buyer for £23.1 million – the third highest price ever paid for a Hockney at auction. Positioning the artist in the highest echelons of art history, in 2018 Hockney’s Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) set an auction record for the highest price ever paid for a painting by a living artist when it sold for $90 million.
According to analysis from Mutual Art, in the first three months of 2023, 68.5% of Hockney art offered at auction sold for above their estimate, while in January of this year alone, more than $2 million of his works changed hands. In the limelight for more than six decades, the demand for Hockney has never been higher than now.
From his paintings of swimming pools through to his pioneering use of first an iPhone, then an iPad to create digital artworks a whole decade before NFTs were a topic of discussion in the art world, Hockney has constantly moved with the times with his exploration of a diverse range of media. A relentless reinventor, his unmistakable style is imprinted on the art world, whether he is depicting the golden summer fields of Yorkshire, a vase of flowers, an epic Yosemite landscape or his garden in Normandy.
Brilliant, outspoken and flamboyant – at the February opening of his ‘Bigger & Closer (not smaller & further away)’ exhibition in London he wore bright yellow Crocs with his checked suit – Hockney has featured in more than 400 solo exhibitions, with the latest using virtual reality and immersive audio and visual techniques to guide visitors through 60 years of his art. An inspiration to millions of fellow artists worldwide, including Maddox’s Cooper, Coco Dávez and Will Martyr, his impact on the world of art is so far-reaching that, at the age of 85, he is still considered a barometer of modern culture.Hockney’s eye for beauty is unique – he finds joy in the everyday and is a ray of light in the world of art. “I believe that the very process of looking can make a thing beautiful,” he once declared. As he enters the second half of his eighth decade continuing to search for beauty in the most unexpected of places, 2023 is set to be another blockbuster year for the British artist. With over 20 exhibitions featuring Hockney scheduled for this year, he has more than earned his position as one of the most influential artists of all time.