We’ve just returned from a late-night viewing (9-10pm) of the David Hockney Exhibition at Tate Britain and were heavily impressed of this exhibition of one of the major contributors to the pop art movement, who is considered to be one of the most influential and maybe the best-known amongst British artists of the 20th century.
Old Blightey owes Hockney (who declined a knighthood earlier in his life). In the 1960s, this man, with his peroxide hair, big glasses, and awkward Yorkshire manner, was the first British artist who used television extensively, communicating to a broad audience at a time when most people in this country were completely oblivious to contemporary art.
“What an artist is trying to do for people is bring them closer to something, because of course art is about sharing. You wouldn’t be an artist unless you wanted to share an experience, a thought.” David Hockney
The exhibition has been criticised by some of being too heavily weighted towards the last 37 years and not enough on the time before, while he was in his prime, but in my view this would seem unfair. The title ‘Hockney’ makes it clear that there is no focus on any particular period. The exhibition contains plenty of his masterpieces, so no complaints from us. Also, this is an old man, take it easy on him having lost some of his zing. Look at other major artists who made it to that age, Picasso, Matisse, oh.. I see the point, but never mind, it does not matter.
Beautifully curated by Chris Stephens and Andrew Wilson (who also provide much of the running commentary on the audio tape that goes with the exhibition) with most of the displays in chronological order, a few exceptions being made to highlight his overall aims or certain techniques.
Two of our favourite paintings are from Hockney’s very early career: “We Two Boys Together Clinging” (1961) depicts two men embracing and kissing each other in front of a lavatory wall covered in graffiti. Two lines of the Walt Whitman poem, from which it derives its title, are scribbled onto the painting, and a newspaper clipping detailing a climbing accident (‘Two Boys Cling to Cliff all Night’) is used as a reference to Cliff Richard, who Hockney had a crush on back then.
This painting was completed during Hockney’s time at the Royal College of Art, when homosexuality was still illegal in England (up to 1861 still punishable with death, it was finally decriminalised in 1982). If it hadn’t been for Hockney, it would seem highly unlikely that anyone who doesn’t support gay marriage today immediately gets themselves crucified by the public and the media (probably the other extreme).
“Cleaning Teeth, Early Evening (10pm) W11” (1962) which shows two men having oral sex and ejaculating into each other’s mouths in a 69-position, with their penises having been replaced by tooth pastes. Not very subtle, but still very impressive both in terms of the art as such and the bold statement in relation to homosexuality. The Tate decided not to show a photo of the painting on its webpage. BSqB defends liberty itself and delivers the dirt directly to your screen (don’t mention it, pleasure).
We love all his best-known works such as the many swimming pool pictures, including “A Bigger Splash” (1967), “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)” (1972) (the feature photo of this post), “Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy” (1968) or “Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy” (1970-71).
In the early 1980s, Hockney began to produce photo collages. Using photos of a single subject, Hockney arranged a patchwork to produce a composite image that bears some resemblance with cubist artwork and assists Hockney in achieving one of his major aims: discussing the way human vision and the related processes (what we do with the impressions of the things we see) work. From the exhibition booklet: “running through all the different types and periods of work is Hockney’s principal obsession with the challenge of representation: how do we see the world, and how can that world of time and space be captured in two dimensions?”
We found it interesting to learn that the creation of these collages happened accidentally. Hockney didn’t like the wide-angle lense photography that was becoming more common at the time. When looking for a way to photograph one of his larger paintings without distorting the view through wide-angle lense photography, he used this technique without the intention of creating art in its own right. He was immediately fascinated by the effect that felt as if the viewer moved through the room.
In the next two rooms, you can see how the multi-angle, multi-perspective approach was transferred into his paintings, again with the consequence of giving a sensation of movement. One painting of a road in a hilly area in Yorkshire makes you feel as if you’re riding in the car with him over the hills and around the turns and corners.
Several times MsB and I were close to picking one period of Hockney’s life as our favourite, but immediately pulled back again when we saw paintings of other periods. His greatest period was without doubt the one from 1960 to 1980, but we found the directly following period well into the 90ies, entitled “Experiences of Space” in the exhibition, also very inspiring.
The least interesting period is probably the Yorkshire landscapes he limited himself to for a whole decade until very recently, when he started to focus on more exciting motifs and techniques again, including paintings he produced on his iPhone and iPad using their ‘Brushes’ app. Among others, you can see his iPhone paintings build up stroke by stroke right in front of your eyes on screens attached to the wall, pretty cool by any standard, certainly for a near-octogenarian, tip to the hat.
Even if you do not consider yourself a Hockney fan, this exhibition – his most comprehensive so far – which will close on 29 May, is an absolute must-see and includes many pieces never seen in public before. Heck, if you’re into art or simply vaguely into colour and you’re currently in London, go. Now. (And be sure to make a reservation, as tickets sell out quickly each day and admission is timed.)