It was whilst in New York visiting the Metropolitan museum that I first saw David Hockney’s picture of Mount Fuji and Flowers. It struck me as a work of great beauty and made me want to look at and find out more about the artist that painted it. It was from that initial viewing that I have researched and looked in depth at the life of David Hockney. Hockney has experimented and pioneered movements and phases in the art world with notable contributions to pop art and photography. He has had such a major influence in so many areas of art in the 20th century that it is important to understand how this impact came about and what influences affected his development. In this dissertation I will follow roughly Hockney’s timeline. By the end of this essay I want people to know what makes this man so extraordinary.
Mount Fuji with flowers 1972 Hockney up to the Royal College From Bradford would come one of the finest talents of his era. By the age of 11 Hockney would be awarded a scholarship to Bradford grammar school. By the age of 15 he would make his first sale and soon go on to the Royal College of Art. The Royal College would inspire and contribute to his style of expressionism helping him form the pop art movement.
Bradford. Born on the 9th July 1937 to Laura and Kenneth Hockney, David Hockney was the fourth of their five children. His humble origins in the depths of Yorkshire could not mask his talent. At the age of 11 he was awarded a scholarship to Bradford Grammar School where his artistic abilities were first noticed. After drawing cartoons in the school paper he made up his mind to become an artist later in life.
Hockney was an individualist who even at this stage in his life spent much time on his own, often painting but also listening to opera, particularly La Boheme. Just as his appetite for art grew he was forced away from the subject after only a year in favour of more academic pursuits. However, realising his talent, Hockney naturally wanted to improve and nurture it. So at age of 14 he asked to leave Bradford Grammar to join the Bradford School of Art. In spite of this he remained at Bradford Grammar until he was 16. His dream to attend the Bradford School of Art would be realised when he left Bradford Grammar in 1953.
At the Bradford College of Art he began painting with oils. His ideas on art came together here, with him seeing and thinking rather than just imitating. His art took on personal meanings in abstract form. They often concerned sexuality and love. Francis Bacon provided Hockney with a stimulus for his art. In 1957 he took the National Diploma in Design Examination; he passed with honours. Hockney avoided 2 years of national service by working in hospitals for the National Health Service, before enrolling in the Royal College of Art in 1959. Life at the Royal College. It was here he would feel most at home. With no rules or boundaries the true Hockney could come to life. This prime environment helped him find success in his work and socially. At the College there were two groups of students, classicalist and modern expressionists. Hockney was a lively member of the expressionist group. His band of friends was often to be found in bars and pubs as well as the studio, including R.B. Kitaj.
It was Kitaj who fuelled Hockney to discover his own style through experimentation. Abstract work did not completely fulfil his desire for a uniqueness which he could claim his own. Hockney went on to use words and rough figures in his experimenting. He was never happy though with this work. His work became largely self motivated. With his work lacking meaning his experimenting took in words often with sexual orientation attached to them.
Paintings from this time included ‘Erection’ 1959-60 and also ‘We two boys together clinging’ 1961. In these paintings Hockney took a step forward in coming to terms with his sexuality, which was extraordinary as homosexuality was still banned and very controversial at this time in Britain. Although he had always been close to males growing up in Bradford he would become openly gay, befriending other men at the college. It would take him several years before he became comfortable with his sexuality; this is shown through his paintings later in life of openly gay scenes.
His influences and life in America America was pivotal in the life of David Hockney. The significant gay scene on the west coast of America in the 60’s drew Hockney to America. It was here he became influenced by the Californian lifestyle and its relaxed attitudes to homosexuality. It was to be this time spent in America that would see Hockney produce some of his best work, with his ever increasing naturalistic style and his obsession with the human figure.
America. America in the 60’s can be said to be in a decade of change. It is important to understand what attracted Hockney so much to America. Everything was happening in America at that time, from war to the space race. America, like Hockney in the early 60’s, was in a state of confusion with endless conflicts and explorations. This may well have been what brought him to the States: the similarity and emotions both America and he shared at the time.
In 1961 Hockney first came to New York, financed by his gold medal award from the Royal College of Art after his graduation. The effect of America was to be immediate. He dyed his hair blond and wore black rimmed glasses, matched by colourful garments. He was to become a new person free from the constraints of British society. It would be by this definitive image that he would become famous throughout the swinging sixties in both America and England. It would not be until after another visit to New York in 1964 that Hockney would finally reach his haven, when he flew on to Los Angeles.
On reaching the City of Angels Hockney is said to have uttered “My God, this place needs its Piranesi; . . . so here I am!” Piranesi (1720-1778) was famous for his catalogue of etchings predominately of Rome; he would leave nothing out of a picture. His etchings are exceedingly detailed. This quote of Hockney’s refers to him systematically charting Los Angeles in a similar fashion to the way Piranesi detailed Rome, but with his unique style.
A Bigger Splash in an expression of Hockney’s emotion and feelings he felt due to the impact that America had upon him. A Bigger Splash 1967 A Bigger Splash is probably Hockney’s calling card. Although not expressive of his sexuality, it is recognisable due to the American feel of the painting. The sun, palm trees and architecture ooze of America, whist being broken by a ‘bigger splash’. The swimming pool, for which Hockney is now famous, became spontaneously recognisable with America. This owes much to the artist capturing the true essence of the place. America was so different to Bradford due to the light, heat, colour and people that Hockney focused on the one thing that incorporated all of these things. On one level or another people connected with his paintings. A Bigger Splash was all things American.
Sexuality. It is remarkable that such an openly homosexual man came out of a strictly heterosexual society. Homosexuality in Britain was banned until 1967. Out of the repression of childhood came such a flamboyant figure. I feel that the influence of sexuality in Hockney’s art is extremely important and should be looked into in more detail. From an early age male company surrounded Hockney. It was during his time at Bradford Grammar School that he realised his true inner feelings. He would suppress these until reaching the Royal College of Art where his coming to terms with his sexuality influenced his art. The College offered opportunities for him to meet others who faced similar changes in their lives. He used abstract words in his work, often with sexual connotations, referring to himself as ‘queer’ and an ‘unorthodox lover’.
His expression of his sexuality brought him fame and fortune when he reached America. I have already talked about the relaxed laid back atmosphere of California, which allowed Hockney to produce his famous swimming pool scenes. The static snap shot views evoked California as this place of relaxation and fun. ‘Two figures-Pool’ 1970 The landscape of the hills of California and the sun prompted Hockney to become more open about himself as this picture clearly shows. Two men likely to be Hockney and his lover at the time Peter Schlesinger are shown close by the poolside. This for Hockney was why he loved California at this time the openness and freedom of expression.
His intimacy with Schlesinger would become so enduring that Hockney’s’ pictures where a portraiture of their enduring relationship. Hockney had previously expressed his sexuality in Two Boys in a Pool back in 1965. This picture openly shows two nude males emerging from a swirling pool. The water is very reminiscent of the 60’s in America and Europe with soft edges and similar to hippie ‘flower power’ shapes. This picture incorporates all aspects of Hockney’s work. A static depiction, emphasing the figures bronzed by the Californian sun. The pool he is renowned for but the water represents an undulating openness of 60’s motifs. The picture sums up the Californian gay scene at the time; a mixture of emotions but emerging.