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Artists David Hockney
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David Hockney

British-American Painter

Movements and Styles: Pop Art, British Pop Art, Nouveau Réalisme

Born: July 9, 1937 - Bradford, UK

David Hockney Timeline


"It's hard work, but I like it. Frank Auerbach said once it is a lot of fun as well, and it is. I like making pictures, I do, yeah."
David Hockney
"The joy and urge to draw is an ancient, 40,000-year-old impulse."
David Hockney
"All art is contemporary, if it's alive, and if it's not alive, what's the point of it?"
David Hockney
"Photography is all right if you don't mind looking at the world from the point of view of a paralyzed Cyclops. But that's not what it is like to live in the world."
David Hockney
"It is very good advice to believe only what an artist does, rather than what he says about his work."
David Hockney
"Loads of people, particularly artists, hate pretty pictures. Now I've never met anyone who didn't like a pretty face."
David Hockney
"Drawing makes you see things clearer, and clearer and clearer still, until your eyes ache."
David Hockney
"Drawing is rather like playing chess: your mind races ahead of the moves that you eventually make."
David Hockney

"If we are to change our world view, images have to change. The artist now has a very important job to do. He's not a little peripheral figure entertaining rich people, he's really needed."

David Hockney Signature


David Hockney's bright swimming pools, split-level homes and suburban Californian landscapes are a strange brew of calm and hyperactivity. Shadows appear to have been banished from his acrylic canvases of the 1960s, slick as magazine pages. Flat planes exist side-by-side in a patchwork, muddling our sense of distance. Hockney's unmistakable style incorporates a broad range of sources from Baroque to Cubism and, most recently, computer graphics. An iconoclast obsessed with the Old Masters, this British Pop artist breaks every rule deliberately, delighting in the deconstruction of proportion, linear perspective, and color theory. He shows that orthodoxies are meant to be shattered, and that opposites can coexist, a message of tolerance that transcends art and has profound implications in the political and social realm.

Key Ideas

Like other Pop artists, Hockney revived figurative painting in a style that referenced the visual language of advertising. What separates him from others in the Pop movement is his obsession with Cubism. In the spirit of the Cubists, Hockney combines several scenes to create a composite view, choosing tricky spaces, like split-level homes in California and the Grand Canyon, where depth perception is already a challenge.
Hockney insists on personal subject matter - another thing that separates him from most other Pop artists. He depicts the domestic sphere - scenes from his own life and that of friends. This aligns him with Alice Neel, Alex Katz, and others who depicted their immediate surroundings in a manner that transcends a particular category or movement.
Hockney was openly gay, and has remained a staunch advocate for gay rights. In the context of a macho art scene that dismissed "pretty color" as effeminate, Hockney's bright greens, purples, pinks, and yellows are declarative statements in support of sexual freedom.
In actively seeking to imitate photographic effects in his work, Hockney is a forerunner of the Photorealists. He is also a heretic among purists who feel that painting should rely only on the artist's direct observations from nature. Though not universally accepted, Hockney's research into the history of art has shown that Old Masters, from Vermeer to Canaletto, frequently used the camera obscura (an early form of camera) to enhance their optical effects. If the revered Old Masters could use cameras, he implies, why can't we?

Most Important Art

David Hockney Famous Art

A Bigger Splash (1967)

Hockney painted this seminal work while at the University of California in Berkeley. A Bigger Splash was created as the final result of two smaller paintings in which he developed his ideas, A Little Splash (1966) and The Splash (1966). A Bigger Splash is a considerably larger work, measuring approximately 94 x 94 inches. Hockney was one of the first artists to make extensive use of acrylic paint, which was then a relatively new artistic medium. He felt that as a fast-drying substance it was more suited to depicting the hot, dry landscapes of California than traditional oil paints. He painted this work by stapling the canvas to his studio wall.

In A Bigger Splash, Hockney explores how to represent the constantly moving surface of the water. The splash was based on a photograph of a swimming pool Hockney had seen in a pool manual. He was intrigued by the idea that a photograph could capture the event of a split second, and sought to recreate this in painting. The buildings are taken from a previous drawing Hockney had done of a Californian home. The dynamism of the splash contrasts strongly with the static and rigid geometry of the house, the pool edge, the palm trees, and the striking yellow diving board, which are all carefully arranged in a grid containing the splash. This gives the painting a disjointed effect that is absolutely intentional, and in fact one of the hallmarks of Hockney's style. The effect is one of stylization and artificiality, drawing on the aesthetic vocabulary of Pop art and fusing it with Cubism.

He said in his autobiography, "I love the idea first of all of painting like Leonardo, all his studies of water, swirling things. And I loved the idea of painting this thing that lasts for two seconds: it takes me two weeks to paint this event that lasts for two seconds."
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David Hockney Artworks in Focus:



One of five children, David Hockney was born into a working-class family in Yorkshire, northern England, in the industrial city of Bradford. His father, a conscientious objector during the Second World War, "had a kind heart" remembers Hockney. "He thought there should be justice in the world". He also romanticized the ideals of the Communist party in Russia. While adopting his father's anti-war stance, Hockney remained resistant to ideologies and hierarchies. As a schoolboy, Hockney says of himself, "I was always quite serious, but cheeky." Art was something he knew he wanted to do very early in life. At his school academically promising boys were forced to drop art as a subject and so he deliberately failed his exams.

Early Training

At 16, Hockney was admitted to the acclaimed Bradford School of Art, where he studied traditional painting and life drawing alongside Norman Stevens, David Oxtoby, and John Loker. Unlike most of his peers Hockney was working class, and he worked tirelessly, especially in his life drawing classes, recalling: "I was there from nine in the morning till nine at night."

David Hockney Biography

In 1957 he was called up for National Service, but as a conscientious objector he served out his time as a hospital orderly. It was around this time that Hockney encountered the work of Russian ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev, whose openness about his sexual identity gave Hockney the courage to reveal his own.

In 1959, Hockney went on to study at the Royal College of Art in London and was taught by several well-known artists, including Roger de Grey and Ceri Richards. His friends included R.B. Kitaj, Allen Jones, and Peter Blake. At the time, the college asked students to submit an essay along with their final work. Hockney refused, wanting to be judged solely on the basis of his art. Remarkably, the RCA, a bastion of tradition, changed its rules to allow him to graduate.

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David Hockney Biography Continues

Mature Period

David Hockney Photo

Hockney's first solo show, held in 1963 at John Kasmin's gallery, proved very successful. The following year he traveled to Los Angeles for the first time, where he met leading intellectual and artistic figures including Christopher Isherwood, and designer Ossie Clarke, with whom he struck up a close friendship and later traveled to the Grand Canyon. He would later be best man at Clarke's wedding to Celia Birtwell, of whom he would paint and draw many portraits. Over the following few years, he resided almost permanently in California, teaching at various universities including Berkeley and UCLA, but also traveling extensively around the US and Europe. During this period he painted some of his best-known works, including A Bigger Splash (1967). He also began to design productions for the ballet, opera, and theater.

In California during the 'swinging 60s', Hockney embraced the mood of experimentation, exploration, and iconoclasm. At a time when homosexuality was still illegal in the U.S. and Britain, Hockney's open love affairs and unapologetic attitude attracted the attention of newspapers and magazines. He met and started a long-term relationship with Peter Schlesinger, who also frequently acted as his model, a relationship that lasted from 1966 to 1971. Of his unconventional lifestyle and experimentation with drugs during this period, Hockney has commented: "you can't have a smoke-free bohemia. You can't have a drug-free bohemia. You can't have a drink-free bohemia." In 1973, Hockney moved to Paris, where he lived until 1975. By the mid-1970s, he was famous. 1974 saw a large traveling retrospective of his work, and a film about him directed by Jack Hazan. In 1976 Hockney published his autobiography and in 1978, he settled in Los Angeles, which became his permanent home.

The AIDS crisis of the 1980s changed the art world forever, and had a particularly profound impact on Hockney who recalls "the first person to die of AIDS that I knew was in 1983, and then for ten years it was lots of people. If all those people were still here, I think it would be a different place." A retrospective of Hockney's work was due to take place at London's Tate gallery in 1988. He threatened to cancel it in protest of anti-homosexual legislation being proposed in Britain at the time.

Late Period

David Hockney Portrait

The 1990s constituted a very productive period for Hockney, with a huge number of retrospectives and exhibitions around the world. In 1991, he began a relationship with John Fitzherbert, a former chef, which lasted for the next 25 years. One of his most important large-scale works, A Closer Grand Canyon, was completed in 1998. From 2000-01 he researched and wrote a book about the Old Masters, developing a theory that these artists made use of the camera far earlier than previously thought. For his research, Hockney assembled photocopies of Old Master paintings, from Byzantine art to Van Gogh, on a huge wall in his LA studio. While Hockney's theory met with significant resistance, it has gained widespread support from the art history community. In 2002, Hockney moved to the Yorkshire seaside town of Bridlington. In the same year, he sat for 120 hours for a portrait painted by Lucian Freud. In return, Freud sat for four hours for him.

Hockney had a stroke in 2012, which for a while impaired his speech. Much to his relief, "the stroke didn't affect my drawing, and that's the most important thing." Only a few months later, one of his assistants, Dominic Elliot, died in Hockney's home. He had taken cocaine and ecstasy and drunk a bottle of drain cleaner. Elliot had been in a relationship with Hockney's former partner John Fitzherbert, who was still living with him. At the high-profile inquest, Hockney was required to give evidence that the death was not a murder.


David Hockney Self-Portrait

In 2011 a poll of British art students rated Hockney as the most influential artist of all time. His work has played a crucial role in reviving the practice of figurative painting. Chuck Close, Cecily Brown, and film director Martin Scorsese (especially the aesthetics of Taxi Driver (1976)) are among the artists inspired by Hockney. Hockney, still prolific, continues to reinvent himself, embracing contemporary technology. His most recent series of works was produced on an iPad. Despite his widespread fame, he remains an iconoclast, steadfastly refusing to accept institutional authority, even some of the highest honors, turning down an invitation to paint a portrait of the Queen (Hockney was "very busy" and couldn't make it), and the Order of Merit, (a knighthood.) "I don't have strong feelings about the honours system" Hockney has remarked, "I don't value prizes of any sort. I value my friends."

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
David Hockney
Interactive chart with David Hockney's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart


Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso
Henri MatisseHenri Matisse
Francis BaconFrancis Bacon
Robert RauschenbergRobert Rauschenberg

Personal Contacts

Andy WarholAndy Warhol
Peter BlakePeter Blake



Influences on Artist
David Hockney
David Hockney
Years Worked: 1960s - current
Influenced by Artist


Howard HodgkinHoward Hodgkin
Lucian FreudLucian Freud
Cecily BrownCecily Brown

Personal Contacts

Allen JonesAllen Jones
R. B. KitajR. B. Kitaj


Pop ArtPop Art

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Anne Souter

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Ruth Epstein

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Anne Souter
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Ruth Epstein
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Useful Resources on David Hockney






The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.


David Hockney: A Bigger Picture Recomended resource

By Margaret Drabble and Marco Livingstone

Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters

By David Hockney

David Hockney: The Biography, 1937-1975

By Christopher Simon Sykes

David Hockney: The Biography, 1975-2012

By Christopher Simon Sykes

More Interesting Books about David Hockney
David Hockney: "Just because I'm cheeky doesn't mean I'm not serious" Recomended resource

By Simon Hattenstone
The Guardian
May 9, 2015

Imagining the Grand Canyon

By Jane Kinsman
National Gallery of Australia

Painting Pioneer: Early Reflections of David Hockney

By Steph Moffat
The Double Negative
December 11, 2013

David Hockney: "When I'm working I feel like Picasso, I feel I'm 30."

By Tim Lewis
The Guardian
November 16, 2014

More Interesting Articles about David Hockney
Interview (2012) Recomended resource

The Royal Academy's Exhibition: A Bigger Picture

Inside New York's Art World: David Hockney (1982)

David Hockney on What's Unphotographable (2004)

Segment by Robert Hughes from The New Shock of the New

Interview with David Hockney

In 1960s London

More Interesting Videos with David Hockney


David Hockney Interview: "The avant-garde have lost their authority"

By Martin Gayford
The Spectator
November 22, 2014

David Hockney interview: "I'll go on until I'm bored" Recomended resource

By Martin Gayford
The Telegraph
May 7, 2014

Interview: David Hockney

By Ossian Ward
Time Out

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