In debt to one of the most brilliant artists of his generation, David Hockney

In the week when a major retrospective of his work opens at Tate Britain, Rose Martin looks at two new books on the work of a man who is entering his eighties as a ceaseless, technical innovator.

THERE are art lovers and there are art collectors and therein lies a big difference. 

Art collectors, usually have the wherewithal to acquire and own the object of their desire; art lovers, on the other hand tend to be a little impecunious and instead, visit galleries, view online and purchase art books as a means of admiring that thing of beauty.

The art book, it could be said, is the side-street to the acquisition of art — while the collection of it is more of a super highway. 

There are the exceptional few art lovers who defy this classification, those who will find an artist on the way up and buy in early and cheap, (often on the drip from galleries), and have their instincts pay off in the long term.

But it’s not always about payoff — and again, this is where the collectors and lovers paths often diverge. 

“Barry Humphries, 26th, 27th, 28th March 2015” Acrylic on canvas 48 x 36” © David Hockney Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt

The collector and lover may be one and same — and that’s a happy confluence — but the mass of influence for a particular artist is generated not by the wealthy few, but by the many who appreciate great work.

Artists and lovers of art will, for the most part, make do with luscious, illustrated volumes for the last century’s stadium names and will also queue up online, (and outdoors), for a chance to see a given artist’s work.

Never more so than in the case of the David Hockney, the Yorkshire-born artist whose eightieth year is celebrated this week with the opening of a major retrospective at Tate Britain, which runs until the end of May. 

The Gallery’s website crashed this week, such was the weight of traffic for tickets — and they’re not cheap at just under £20 a head.

But then, neither is the latest, ‘Sumo’ monograph on the artist’s work from specialist publisher, Tashcen, which has a long-standing relationship with the artist. 

David Hockney. (A Bigger Book; Edition of 9,000 costs €2,000; www.taschen.com

David Hockney: A Bigger Book includes Hockney’s choice of his own work created over the last 60 years and ranges from teenage drawings at Bradford School of Art to his breakthrough works in ’60s London, (his trajectory to the top of the British Pop Art movement was swift, despite being refused his diploma by the Royal College of Art, which rescinded its decision a short while later; Hockney created ‘The Diploma’ to vent his spleen at the RCA).

Moving to Los Angeles, he began a series of swimming pool paintings in a hyper-realistic style, a move that was to draw international attention. 

His subject matter was often personal — Hockney was very openly gay, at a time when it was neither popular, nor profitable.

Hugely prolific and versatile, he has changed tack a number of times in his long career, adopting and perfecting a range of different media and crafts, including stage set design, etching, collage, and most recently, digital technology, of which he was an early adopter. 

David Hockney’s ‘The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011’ — iPad drawing printed on four sheets of paper (46½” x 35” each), mounted on four sheets of Dibond Edition of 10 93 x 70” overall. Pictures: Richard Schmidt

The more expensive editions of the Taschen monograph includes an iPad drawing as part of the €6000 price and a further 9,000 exclusive copies are signed by the artist. 

Taschen says Hockney’s oeuvre has never before been published on this scale — and with such a degree of personal input from the artist.

The artist’s relocation to his native Yorkshire in the ’90s saw him revert to using West Coast colouration to describe the English landscape, a move which has created vivid, engrossing and expressionistic images, created on multiple canvases and using digital photography to achieve a composite image, like his famous, Bigger Trees near Warter’, above.

This, and other major paintings are joined in the Bigger Book by drawings, photo-composites, multi-perspective collages, stage designs, multi-camera video works, and iPad drawings, showing the artist’s fluency in style and media.

“As an artist who rarely looks back, the vast volume is as much his own personal review as it is a definitive record for art lovers all over the world,” says Taschen.

“I don’t tend to live in the past,”Hockeny comments. 

“Working on this book, I see quite how much I have done.”

DAVID HOCKNEY CURRENT: Thames and Hudson £45 (€53) hardback; 336pp Size: 30.5 x 25cm 2,036 illustrations.

Another publication on the artist, which was re-issued to coincide with an Australian retrospective and which happily chimes with the major Tate exhibition, is David Hockney Current from Thames and Hudson, which looks at the artist’s work over the past decade, including a first catalogue raisonné of the artist’s iPhone and iPad drawings. It also includes a Q&A with the artist and, as with all art books, has a range of high quality reproductions of the work.

Current takes a more academic approach to Hockney’s oeuvre and in it, internationally recognised art historians and commentators assess his place as one of the most influential British artists of his time, asserting his title as the country’s greatest living painter.

Hockney’s more recent expeditions into watercolour, charcoal, multi-camera video installation and digital drawing are explored here, (in a recent interview with Jon Snow on Channel 4 news, he described how he enjoyed playing back his digital drawings because they allowed him to see the process of his own technique — just like animation — he was quite taken with this).

David Hockney "A Bigger Card Players" 2015 Photographic drawing printed on paper, mounted on aluminum 69 3/4 x 69 3/4" Edition of 12 © David Hockney Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt

The Thames and Hudson publication includes essays by Simon Maidment, Martin Gayford, Li Bowen, Barbara Bolt and Edith Devaney, as well as a Q&A with Hockney himself. As Simon Maidment writes in his essay, the book helps describe “a driven, curious and risk-taking artist”.

“It is unique,” he contiunes, “to have someone generally acknowledged as one of the great painters of his age experimenting publicly with new ways of working, apparently unafraid of failure and doggedly asking us to consider the traditional in new, contemporary ways.”

The contributors are all heavy-hitters — Simon Maidment is Senior Curator at National Gallery of Victoria, Australia; Barbara Bolt is Associate Dean at the University of Victoria. 

Martin Gayford is the author of several books, including The History of Pictures and A Bigger Message, both with David Hockney, and Edith Devaney is Senior Curator at the Royal Academy of Arts, London.

Current includes many, top quality illustrations showing Hockney’s range and for the art lover on the average wage, it’s an excellent buy at just over €50 as well as being a comprehensive introduction to the work of an outstanding artist.

David Hockney self-portrait

HOCKNEY EXHIBITION: Tate Britain, Millbank, London until May 29. Open until 10pm every Friday and until 8pm every Saturday. £19.50. (Free for members)


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