David Hockney: The Reinventors’ Reinventor

David Hockney
Photography by M. Sharkey

Old ideas are easy to fall back on. New ideas require vision — and courage. At 77, David Hockney remains one of the most innovative artists alive, not only for his central place in the pop art movement of the 1960s, but also for his constant delight in pushing boundaries. This is an artist who exhibited an early collection in London in 1961 under the title “Fuck,” drawing on sexual graffiti in public toilets — six years before homosexuality was decriminalized in Britain. More than 50 years later, Hockney was able to draw over 650,000 people to the Royal Academy of Arts in London, where his exhibition, “A Bigger Picture,” reflected his ongoing enthusiasm for new forms and technologies.

Critics have sometimes dismissed Hockney’s endless reinvention as a lack of discipline and seriousness, not that the artist would care what they have to say. These days, he prefers to follow the conversation on Twitter. “It isn’t just about a little comment of 140 characters, it’s much more than that because it’s notice- boards,” he told The Guardian a few years ago. “People post something, it takes you to another person, it moves along.” In other words: Who needs old media when you have new?

Lured by watching Laurel and Hardy movies as a child, Hockney left damp Yorkshire, England, for sunny California in 1964, eventually settling there in 1978. His work, from his hedonistic early paintings of Los Angeles swimming pools to his large-scale photoworks, amounts to a lifelong inquiry into perception and reality that never wavers. “I’m interested in all kinds of pictures, however they are made, with cameras, with paint brushes, with computers, with anything,” he told The New York Times in 2001. And so it remains. Since 2009 his favored medium has been an iOS app, Brushes, which he uses to create paintings on iPhones and iPads, a development that would be easy to dismiss as a novelty with a less ambitious artist.

These days, Hockney spends more time in Yorkshire, where he has reconnected with the landscape of his youth, but for a long time his spiritual home — the place that spoke to him — was Los Angeles. “I lived in L.A. so long I’ll always be an English Angeleno,” he said in an interview in 2012. “But to me now the big cities are less interesting and sophisticated than they were. To get something fresh, you have to go back to nature.”

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