David Hockney: A life of light


The first thing that strikes me about David Hockney is how evocative and bold his artwork is. To me, his paintings are like an entry into an alternate world; a world where childhood imagination is a complete reality, everything is seen in technicolour, and nothing is ever dark or melancholy.  

“I am an optimist” 

I think Hockney may include this optimistic essence in his art because he knew he needed to craft a new life for himself. Born in 1930’s Bradford as a gay man meant that Hockney was side-lined from mainstream, affluent society. He needed to find a way to live as himself, and couldn’t do so through traditional means. 

“I didn’t care about fitting in”

But Hockney always intended for others to see this life that he created for himself. He painted his gay companions and lovers in the early 1960’s, before the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 which decriminalised homosexuality, and so was always brave about his identity. His painting, Domestic Scene, Los Angeles 1963, shows two male figures bathing freely and openly; the viewer faces no obstruction in seeing and understanding the scene. It seems that through the painting Hockney is somewhat normalising and giving life to gay relationships – they become part of the narrative of life, rather than hidden away. 

“We live in an age where the artist is forgotten. He is a researcher. I see myself that way”  

Yet, not all of his art has this optimistic glow. Early on in his career, Hockney used more muted, hushed colours. In paintings such as 1957’s Nude, Hockney shows us a bare figure, lying helplessly on a mattress. The figure is completely at the helm of their mental insecurity. The perspective Hockney uses, of the viewer looking from above, makes us seem mildly responsible for this torment. Perhaps Hockney is displaying how life can be; his life could have been this way if he allowed himself to fall. Hockney said himself how “I have a good laugh every day…there’s loads of people who don’t laugh at all”. Hockney, therefore, has a dichotomous view on life: we can live in darkness or in light. 

 “The moment you cheat for the sake of beauty, you know you’re an artist”

Hockney’s array of art has always startled me. Garrowby Hill (1998) shows Hockney using his roots as a source of inspiration. Although perhaps known for his LA pictures, Hockney still remains a British icon. This painting in particular shows Hockney bringing life to a perhaps mundane British scene and using art to make beauty; to create a façade of beauty which will make life more idealised and optimistic. 

“We live in an age where the artist is forgotten. He is a researcher. I see myself that way”  

Hockney has re-emerged in the limelight recently due to his Portrait of an Artist (Pool with two figures) (1972) being sold at auction for over $90 million this November. This new contextual layer to the work will invite critique and controversy as the meaning of ‘value’ comes to the fore. But Hockney is always one to keep things simple. Speaking about how the work came about he has said, “I realised that a swimming pool in England would have been a luxury, whereas here (in LA) they are not”. On the face of it, the painting seems luxurious and elite, yet in reality, Hockney is simply exposing truth and showing reality, albeit in a heightened fashion. I think this makes Hockney an artist for everyone, even if his work is increasingly mainstream.

In fact, his work being mainstream is something to be celebrated. The celebration of his art means that individuality and diversity are being celebrated as well. Hockney, therefore, is an artist in the best sense – he speaks about life, and what else do we really want? 

Image courtesy of Regan Vercruysse via Flickr and Creative Commons

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