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  David Hockney Biography

David Hockney Biography

born Bradford (UK) 1937

David Hockney,CH (born July 9, 1937) is a British artist, based in California. His work is largely personal and autobiographical, with his paintings of swimming pools in Los Angeles among his best known pieces.

Hockney was born in Bradford and educated at Bradford Grammar School and the Royal College of Art in London where he met R. B. Kitaj. He became associated with pop art, but his early works also display expressionist elements, not dissimilar to certain works by Francis Bacon. Sometimes, as in We Two Boys Together Clinging (1961), named after a poem by Walt Whitman, these works make reference to his homosexuality.

Later, a visit to California, where he settled, inspired Hockney to make a series of oil paintings of swimming pools in Los Angeles. These are executed in a more realistic style and use vibrant colours. He also made prints, portraits of friends, and stage designs for Glyndebourne, La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

Hockney studied lithography in art school in Bradford, Yorkshire. His first print was Myself and My Heroes (1961), where he appears beside a haloed Gandhi and Walt Whitman. His first major project in printmaking was a series of sixteen etchings where he represents Hogarth's Rake's Progress autobiographically. In the 1960s in California, he created with Ken Tyler another series of prints titled A Hollywood Collection. Many of his lithographs are portraits of his friends, most frequently of them Celia Birtwell. His first prints during the 1980s were two large lithographs of Celia published by Gemini G.E.L. (the studio started by Ken Tyler) in 1982. Hockney also made two etchings honoring Pablo Picasso, whose work he admired and was influenced by, after Picasso's death in 1973.

Hockney also worked with photography, or more precisely - photocollaging. Using varying numbers (~5-150) of small polaroid snaps or photolab-prints of a single subject Hockney arranged a patchwork to make a composite image. Because these photos are taken from different perspectives and at slightly different times, the result is work which has an affinity with cubism, affinity which was some of Hockney's major aims - discussing the way human vision works. Some of these pieces are landscapes, others portraits.

These photographic collages appeared mostly in his works between 1970 and 1986. He referred to them as "joiners". He began this style of art by taking polaroid photographs of one subject and arranging them into a grid layout. The subject would actually move while being photographed so that the piece would show the movements of the subject seen from the photographer's perspective. In later works Hockney changed his technique and moved the camera around the subject instead.

Hockney's creation of the joiners were never planned, he just sort of discovered them. He noticed in the late sixties that photographers were using cameras with wide-angle lenses to take pictures. He didn't like them because the photographs were distorted in ways that a person never sees. It was not consistent with human vision. He was working on a painting of a living room in Los Angeles in which the living room and terrace were combined into one picture at the time. He took polaroid shots of the living room and glued them together, not intending for them to be a composition on their own. Upon looking at the final composition, he realized it created a narrative as if the viewer was moving through the room. He began to work more and more with photography after this discovery and even stopped painting for a period of time to pursue this new style of photography.

Hockney was commissioned to design the cover and a series of pages for the December 1985 issue of the French edition of Vogue magazine. In consistency with his interest in cubism and admiration for Pablo Picasso, Hockney chose to paint Celia Birtwell (who appears in several of his works) with different views of her facial features as if the eye had scanned her face diagonally.

Another important commission of his was to draw with the Quantel Paintbox, a computer program that allowed the artist to sketch direct onto the monitor screen. This commission was taken by Hockney in December 1985. Using this program was similar to drawing on the Mylar for prints which he had much experience in. His works were so successful that a video was made while he was using the Quantel and broadcast by the BBC. His work with the Quantel showed him that new technology could be used for art.

In the 2001 television programme and book, Secret Knowledge, Hockney posited that the Old Masters had used the camera obscura, a series of lenses or mirrors, to project an image of their models onto the canvas, which they had then traced around, enabling them to achieve very high levels of realism. His hypothesis was debated by several leading historians.

In 1974, Hockney was the subject of Jack Hazan's film, A Bigger Splash (named after one of Hockney's swimming pool paintings from 1967). Hockney was made a Companion of Honour in 1997 and is also a Royal Academician. Many of Hockney's works are now housed in the old mill Salts Mill in Saltaire, near his home town of Bradford.

His A Bigger Grand Canyon, a series of small paintings which produced one enormous picture, was bought by the National Gallery of Australia for $4.6 million.

In September 2005 he declared his opposition to the proposed UK ban on smoking in public places


Select Timeline

  • 1937 - Born in Bradford.
  • 1953 - To 1957 - Studied at the Bradford School of Art.
  • 1957 - To 1959 - Hockney spent his National Service working in a hospital.
  • 1959 - To 1962 - studied at the Royal College of Art, London.
  • 1960 - Began showing in the Young Contemporaries exhibitions at the RBA Galleries.
  • 1961 - Finished first Tea Paintings and Love Paintings, painted compositions consisting of consumer goods images and psychograms.
  • 1961 - Also visited New York for the first time.
  • 1962 - Taught at Maidstone College of Art.
  • 1963 - Travelled to Egypt and Los Angeles, where he met Henry Geldzahler, Andy Warhol and Dennis Hopper.
  • 1963 - To 1964 - taught at the University of Iowa.
  • 1964 - Settled in Los Angeles, painted his first swimming-pool pictures and made first polaroids.
  • 1965 - To 1967 - held teaching posts at the University of Colorado and the University of California, Berkeley.
  • 1967 - Travelled to Italy and France.
  • 1968 - Travelled to Germany and Ireland.
  • 1970 - Had a retrospective exhibition in London, also shown at Hanover and Rotterdam.
  • 1973 - To 1975 - lived in Paris.
  • 1974 - Exhibition of works was shown at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs.
  • 1975 - Designed the set for Igor Stravinsky's opera "The Rake's Progress".
  • 1976 - Returned to Los Angeles and worked intensively with photography.
  • 1978 - Designed the decor for Mozart's "The Magic Flute", produced at the Glyndebourne Festival.
  • 1980 - Developed a program for the Metropolitan Opera with works by Satie, Poulenc, Ravel and Stravinsky.
  • 1981 - Travelled in China, following which his book China Diary was published by Thames and Hudson.
  • 1986 - To 1987 - designed the set for Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde" at the Los Angeles Music Center.
  • 1988 - Designed patterns for a carpet company.
  • 1989 - Fax pictures phase, represented at the Sao Paulo Biennale.
  • 1990 - First work with digital photography.
  • 1998 - returns to Yorkshire to paint.

Select Exhibitions

  • 1961 - Young Contemporaries Exhibition
  • 1963 - First solo exhibition at the Kasmin Gallery, London
  • 1964 - First solo exhibition in New York at the Alan Gallery
  • 1965 - Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Kasmin Gallery, London; Palais de Beaux-Arts, Paris
  • 1968 - The Museum of Modern Art, New York
  • 1973 - 1975 - Retrospective exhibition held at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris
  • 1976 - Nicholas Wilder Gallery, Los Angeles
  • 1978 - L.A. Louver Galler, Venice, California
  • 1978 - Travels with Pen, Pencil and Ink begins its extensive tree-year tour of USA and Canada
  • 1980 - To 1981 - Knoedler/Kasmin Gallery, London
  • 1983 - Hockney Paints the Stage Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
  • 1983 - Nishimura Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
  • 1983 - Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago, IL
  • 1988 - David Hockney: A Retrospective Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and The Tate Gallery, London
  • 1989 - Sao Paulo Biennale, Brazil
  • 1995 - To 1996 - Retrospective of drawings, Royal Academy of Art, London
  • 1996 - Opens his drawing retrospective at the LA County Museum of Art, Manchester City Art Gallery, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan
  • 1999 - Recent Etchings Alan Cristea Gallery, London
  • 2000 - National Gallery exhibition Encounters: New Art from Old Sept 14 - 17, London
  • 2000 - David Hockney - A Print Retrospective Alan Cristea Gallery, London
  • 2006 - David Hockney Portraits, The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
  • 2006 - David Hockney Portraits, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles

Select Artwork

  • Homage to Michelangelo, 1975
  • Lithograph of Water made of thick and thin lines and two light blue washes, 1980
  • Celia in an Armchair, 1981
  • Franco-American Mail from The Blue Guitar, 1976-1977
  • The Buzzing of the Blue Guitar from The Blue Guitar, 1976-1977
  • Bruno Wollheim, 2002
  • Pembroke studio interior, 1984
  • Fredda Bringing Anne and Me a Cup of Tea, 1983
  • Hotel L'Arbois, Sainte-Maxime, 1968
  • Malcolm Rogers, 2002
  • The Cook, 1969
  • Lithographic Water Made of Lines and Crayon, 1978
  • A Bounce for Bradford, 1987
  • An Imaginary Landscape, 1969
  • I Say They Are, 1976
  • The Ballroom Santa Cruz, 1966


  • "And then I went round the corner and there's a Van Gogh portrait, and you just think, well, this is another level. A higher level, actually. I love the Sargent, but it's not the level of Van Gogh."
  • "But slowly I began to use cameras and then think about what it was that was going on. It took me a long time, I mean I actually played with cameras and photography for about 20 years."
  • "I made a photograph of a garden in Kyoto , the Zen garden, which is a rectangle. But a photograph taken from any one point will not show, well it shows a rectangle, but not with ninety degree angles."
  • "But, I would always be thinking of how pictures are constructed and colour, how to use it, I mean you're using it for constructing, makes you think about it, the place did as well."
  • "I think my father would have liked to have been an artist, actually. But I think he didn't quite have perhaps the drive or, I don't know, I mean he had a family to bring up I suppose. But er, I have a feeling he liked, he liked making marks, looking at things, he took up photography."
  • "I think Picasso was, without doubt, the greatest portraitist of the 20th century, if not any other century."
  • "Shadows sometimes people don't see shadows. The Chinese of course never paint them in pictures, oriental art never deals with shadow. But I noticed these shadows and I knew it meant it was sunny."
  • "Television is becoming a collage - there are so many channels that you move through them making a collage yourself. In that sense, everyone sees something a bit different."
  • "You had to be aware that I saw that photography was a mere episode in the history of the optical projection and when the chemicals ended, meaning the picture was fixed by chemicals, we were in a new era."


  • David Hockney: Paintings (Art & Design) - by Paul Melia (Author), Ulrich Luckhardt (Author), David Hockney, Prestel Publishing; New Ed edition (October 2000)
  • Hockney's Pictures: The Definitive Retrospective - by Gregory Evans (Author), Bulfinch (November 17, 2004)
  • David Hockney Portraits - by Sarah Howgate (Author), Barbara Stern Shapiro (Author), Mark Glazebrook (Contributor), Edmund White, Yale University Press (March 28, 2006)
  • David Hockney's Dog Days - by David Hockney, Thames & Hudson; Reprint edition (September 25, 2006)
  • That's the Way I See It - by David Hockney, Chronicle Books (September 1, 1993)
  • Hockney's People - by Kay Heymer (Author), Marco Livingstone,
  • David Hockney - by Marco Livingstone, Annely Juda Fine Art (December 2002)
  • David Hockney Poster Art - by Chronicle Books LLC Staff , Chronicle Books (February 1, 1995)
  • David Hockney (Rizzoli Art Series) - by Kenneth E. Silver, Rizzoli International Publications (October 15, 1994)
  • David Hockney: Paintings - by Pauland Ulrich Luckhardt Melia, Prestel Publishing (May 30, 2007)

Quick Facts

  • David Hockney has often been regarded as a playboy of the art world, having promiscuous relationships and being active in fringe circles.
  • David Hockney had a strict Methodist upbringing, and smoking and drinking were forbidden in the home.
  • In the summer of 1964, Hockney was invited to teach at the University of Iowa, where he was able to complete four paintings in six weeks.
  • Most of his paintings from the late 1960s and early 1970s, particularly Mr. and Mrs. Clark and Percy (1970-1971), adhered to the concept of naturalism - that is, subjects as they appear.
  • Hockney was made a Companion of Honour in 1997 and was made an RA, Royal Academician by the Royal Academy of Arts, London in 1991.
  • In September 2005 he declared his opposition to the proposed UK ban on smoking in public places.


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 David Hockney

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