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In pictures: David Hockney at Tate Britain

From glossy LA pool scenes, to intricate photocollages and experimental fax works, the Tate's new Hockney show promises to be one of the biggest crowd-pleasers of 2017

By Eddy Frankel
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Tate Britain's new David Hockney retrospective (Feb 9-May 29 2017) is a comprehensive look at one of the twentieth century’s greatest painters. Here's our guide to what fuels big Dave's art.

Read our five-star review of the Tate's David Hockney show.

"PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST (POOL WITH TWO FIGURES)" 1972ACRYLIC ON CANVAS84 X 120"© DAVID HOCKNEYPHOTO CREDIT: ART GALLERY OF NEW SOUTH WALES/JENNI CARTER
"PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST (POOL WITH TWO FIGURES)" 1972ACRYLIC ON CANVAS84 X 120"© DAVID HOCKNEYPHOTO CREDIT: ART GALLERY OF NEW SOUTH WALES/JENNI CARTER
© David Hockney: 'Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)' 1971. Photo: Art Gallery of New South Wales /Jenni Carter

An American adventure

© David Hockney: 'Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)' 1972. Photo: Art Gallery of New South Wales /Jenni Carter

If you had a choice between drizzly Britain and sun-drenched California, like Yorkshire-born David Hockney did, you’d probably choose the USA too. He left behind his degree at the Royal College of Art in 1964 and headed for warmer climes. What he found was a world of bright light, perfect swimming pools, sexual abandon and endless artistic possibilities that would change his art for ever. Gone was the Francis Bacon-esque expressionism of his earlier years, replaced with a simple, bold, colorful naturalism that reflected not just the weather and light of California, but the freedom, love and hedonism of his new lifestyle. He eventually started splitting his time between Yorkshire, Paris, London and Malibu, but the aching cool of Los Angeles never left his art. 

Christopher Isherwwod and Don Bachardy, © David Hockney
Christopher Isherwwod and Don Bachardy, © David Hockney
© David Hockney. David Lambert and Rod Tidnam/Tate Photography

People power

© David Hockney: 'Christopher Isherwwod and Don Bachardy', 1968. Photo: David Lambert and Rod Tidnam/Tate Photography

Hockney kept moving towards naturalism, and nowhere is that clearer than in his late ’60s/’70s pictures of people. Painting naturalistic images made Hockney feel free; it was a rejection of abstraction and modernism, a chance to express himself. He captured his friends, collectors, family and – very often – his lovers. The works feel staged, composed, totally unreal – and that’s kind of the point. He exposes ideas of reality, artificiality and perspective; he plays with them – not just in terms of the images themselves, but in the complicated personal relationships that they uncover. It all looks simple and obvious, but ee bah gum it’s not.

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"BILL + AUDREY WILDER LOS ANGELES APRIL 1982" COMPOSITE POLAROID46 X 44"© DAVID HOCKNEYPHOTO CREDIT: RICHARD SCHMIDT
"BILL + AUDREY WILDER LOS ANGELES APRIL 1982" COMPOSITE POLAROID46 X 44"© DAVID HOCKNEYPHOTO CREDIT: RICHARD SCHMIDT
© David Hockney: 'Billy & Audrey Wilder', Los Angeles, April 1982. Photo: Richard Schmidt

Photographic ingenuity

© David Hockney: 'Billy & Audrey Wilder', Los Angeles, April 1982. Photo: Richard Schmidt

The whole idea that a photo somehow captures life more realistically than any other medium holds no truck with old Dave. His main problem is that we don’t see things from a single perspective, like a camera lens does. So he started making collages out of multiple photos from multiple angles, creating fly-eyed visual explosions. His experimentation didn’t stop there – he started working collage into his paintings, and vice versa. Hockney was, and still is, a relentless experimenter.

'Woldgate Woods, 6 and 9 November', David Hockney
'Woldgate Woods, 6 and 9 November', David Hockney
© David Hockney: 'Woldgate Woods', 6 and 9 November 2006. Photo: Richard Schmidt

Yorkshire’s siren call

© David Hockney: 'Woldgate Woods', 6 and 9 November 2006. Photo: Richard Schmidt

Leaving California behind in the ’90s to spend more time with his mother in Yorkshire, Hockney settled in the seaside town of Bridlington. Suddenly, he was completely immersed in the rolling fields and country paths of home. Though he’d often painted landscapes before, his Yorkshire scenes of the 2000s were on a giant scale – and their aim was to capture the places of his youth, like a map of his past. Somehow, despite their epic size and ambition, they end up being some of his most intimate works.

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(CROP 3) David Hockney "A Lawn Being Sprinkled" 1967 Acrylic on canvas 60 x 60"© David Hockney. Photo: Richard Schmidt
(CROP 3) David Hockney "A Lawn Being Sprinkled" 1967 Acrylic on canvas 60 x 60"© David Hockney. Photo: Richard Schmidt
© David Hockney: 'A Lawn Being Sprinkled' 1967. Photo: Richard Schmidt

The power of technology

© David Hockney: 'A Lawn Being Sprinkled' 1967. Photo: Richard Schmidt

Hockney is anything but a one-trick art pony; his work, though so iconic and recognisable, has always shifted between styles. And he’s been adventurous in his use of technology too: not just using photography in new ways, but creating art with photocopies and even faxes throughout the ’80s and ’90s. These days, he’s taken to painting with the Brushes app on his iPad – the results are quick snapshots of Hockney’s visions in dazzling digital resolution. They’re proof that no matter the medium, Hockney is always resolutely, staunchly and irrevocably Hockney.

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