Many artists have owned the mantle of Britains greatest living artist, obviously, the very nature of the title is a transient one. Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud have both been strong contenders in this arena and although career-wise Hockney has always been in the fight for this title, I believe that he has been just that for the past few decades at least. It would probably be a title he wouldn't thank you for, being a Yorkshire-man he's aware of his qualities and national and international appreciation. He doesn't need anything as crass as a title. However, in my opinion, no other artist in British modern art has created such a variance in styles, medium, and has been as prolific and critically appreciated as Hockney.
As the title of Greatest living artist is a transient one, the same can also be said of artists in general. They blow hot and cold, and very few make regular headlines and manage to shock and open up new avenues of work. Hockney has always done this. Never one to shy away from a new medium, he broke into the digital age by creating a series of work on his IPad and I believe these to be among some of his best-printed works. So what is Hockney's greatest period of production? Again a very tough question, for someone who has been at the top of his game for so long. Is it his 1960s California Swimming pool paintings? - it could be. Is it his 1970s portraiture work? Possibly, after all, one of those is currently his most expensive auction result to date.
David Hockney - A Bigger Splash
How about his 2012 exhibition work at the Royal Academy with his huge landscape paintings and 82 portraits which made up the sell-out show? The answer is extremely difficult. It's hard to put a pin in someone as gifted and hardworking as Hockney. To file him as a painter would be cutting his work in half, a printmaker he certainly is, and a great one at that. Studying in the early part of his career under Julian Trevelyan it's hard to ignore the Etchings he produced in the 1960s and 70s, he cleared his studio out of all his paintings and drawings and turned it into a private printing studio. He kept the acid bath on the balcony outside where he would dip the etching plates into it and let the chemical reaction carve the lines he wanted into the copper. The results were a fantastic body of varied subjects and works, many of which weren't printed and the plates were stored away. In fact, he had so many ideas with the Grimms Fairytales series that he stopped after partially completing the series and left them behind hoping to return to them one day and complete them. As of yet he still hasn't.
An example of a Camera Obscura, where a lense would project an image upside down on a wall where a canvas could be hung and painted on.
Much like a shark, Hockney always moves forward, looking for new subjects and styles which excite him. Sure, he comes back to familiar hunting grounds once in a while, but this is an artist unafraid to stretch himself creatively, and someone who doesn't shy away from risk. A lover of history, he did a fantastic documentary some years ago on the camera obscurer, which if you aren't aware, is a device which was used by painters hundreds of years ago to project an image onto a canvas, and they would paint what they saw in perfect proportions. Some have maintained that Canaletto and Vermeer are among users of this technology. Hockney's documentary charted the mechanics of the tool and the pitfalls and aspect irregularities that arose from it. This allowed him to identify paintings made by artists who had previously denied using a camera obscurer. Much like Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz, Hockney pulled back the curtain and revealed the truth. He was also vehemently resolute that the use of a camera obscurer in no way diminished the intrinsic skill of the painter.
David Hockney - Pear Blossom Highway
Hockney took the idea of using a camera to capture perspective accuracy to another level in the 1980s and 90s when he produced a series of work taken with an old school film camera (yes, a rarity today, although making a comeback amongst young classicists) he developed the images on standard 4" x 6" photo paper, but instead of taking just one image of the landscape, Hockney had taken hundreds of images from all angles and distances, he then constructed the hundreds of 4x6 photos into an overall image to make a large 6-foot by 8-foot collage. However, when you stand back from the image it was a complete photo of the landscape and as you look into it you can see all the many elements which have gone into creating that overall picture. This was revolutionary at the time, and if you're lucky enough to ever see one you will be taken back by the intelligence and creativity which has been utilised to produce such a wonderful piece. Hockney took the idea of using a camera to capture perspective accuracy to another level in the 1990s when he produced a series of work taken with an old school film camera (yes, a rarity today, although making a comeback amongst young classicists) he developed the images on standard 4" x 6" photo paper, but instead of taking just one image of the landscape, Hockney had taken hundreds of images from all angles and distances, he then constructed the hundreds of 4x6 photos into an overall image to make a large 6-foot by 8-foot collage. However, when you stand back from the image it was a complete photo of the landscape and as you look into it you can see all the many elements which have gone into creating that overall picture. This was revolutionary at the time, and if you're lucky enough to ever see one you will be taken back by the intelligence and creativity which has been utilised to produce such a wonderful piece.
In 2018 Hockney was the most expensive living artist with an auction record for his 1972 painting 'Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)' which sold for an eye-watering $90.3 million displacing the previous holder of the title Jeff Koons. Koons would take back the mantle 6 months later with a larger amount for one of his Rabbit sculptures.
David Hockney - Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)
However, if that was an indication of Hockney's continuing ascension in the world markets, then this week seeing him gain another auction record for the Asian art market will bolster his reputation among the number and figure fanatics. Hockney's 1996 paintings '30 Sunflowers' sold for $14.8 million at Sotheby's in Hong Kong, making it the second most expensive painting ever sold in Asia by a non-Asian artist. The painting was last seen in May 2011 in a Phillips contemporary auction in New York, selling for $2.5 million. The owner of that one did well. All of these Auction records are pointing towards new heights for the artists legacy although it's quite too soon to be talking about his legacy when the man is still standing out in cold weather, painting Yorkshire footpaths Plein air. His recent series of IPad creations during lockdown are beautiful and if you've ever tried to use an Ipad to draw anything you'll appreciate the skill involved.
David Hockney turned 83 years old on the 9th of July 2020, he still smokes like a chimney and he still won't stop painting and creating, there's no sign of him slowing down. He has an exuberance and rigour that most 30 years olds would struggle to keep up with. When putting Hockney into a category of an artist, it's a very difficult task to do on the international scale. Although, even when you try to do so, he goes into a very rarified category that has mastered and succeded for so long in their career across many different disciplines. In the 20th Century art revolution where all bets were off and anything goes, America had Andy Warhol, Spain had Picasso and Dali, Japan has Yayoi Kusama and Britain has David Hockney.
I can think of no better way of finishing this blog than hearing from the man himself. Here's a 3-minute video completed by the Royal College of Art in which Hockney talks about his experience at the School.
Thanks for reading as always and I'll be back with more new content soon.
All Images are mine unless otherwise stated. All opinions are my own and not De Lacey Fine Art Ltd or any other company or body.
David Hockney - Now and Always - G Farmer 2020 © Copyright