The English critic

David Hockney throughout his illustrious career has pioneered several art movements most notably pop art. In this chapter I will talk about his contribution to pop art. His wide range of medias with special focus on photography for which Hockney would become famous. I believe it is important to know what an artist is thinking so a look into Hockney’s book on the old masters the ‘Secret knowledge’ should provide an interesting insight in how he sees the work of others. I will also take a great interest in the film documenting Hockney’s life ‘A bigger Splash’1967 as I feel t would be fascinating to see how others at the time of his fame viewed the man.

Pop Art. When the term Pop Art is mentioned David Hockney’s name is inextricably associated, but why? Firstly, what is Pop Art? ‘Pop’ in Pop Art refers to the popular culture of the moment. Ordinary people could indulge in much pleasure from these pictures, as they would do from T.V or comics for example. Richard Hamilton a leading pioneer of the movement, described Pop Art as ‘popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, and Big Business’.

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Secondly, when and where did Pop Art begin? It started in England in the 1950’s and crossed over the Atlantic, gaining world recognition in the 1960’s.The English critic Lawrence Alloway from the Architectural Digest first used the term ‘Pop Art’ in 1958. He used the term to describe paintings which commemorate post-war consumerism in 1961 at the Young Contemporaries Exhibition. He and his fellow modern expressionists (Jones, Phillips, Hamilton and Kitaj) were crowned the fore-runners of the Pop Art Movement. Although Hockney repudiates the Pop Art label, his art is of a popular nature.

Aesthetically pleasing yet with a subtle undertone unique to Hockney combining colour, light and meaning.Picasso. In 1960 Hockney visited the Picasso exhibition at the Tate Gallery London. From then on Picasso became one of his artistic heroes. Hockney was living in Paris when Picasso died in 1973.

The turn of events inspired Hockney to pay homage to such a great artist in that same year. This is clearly recognisable in Hockney’s etching The Student: Homage to Picasso. A student holds a portfolio whilst standing in front of an oversized marble head of Picasso.

Hockney was lucky enough to work with Aldo and Piero Crommelynck who had been Picasso’s master printers. There help and influence was so great that Hockney dedicated a series of prints to the great Spaniard. He took inspiration from both colour and period. Hockney at the time would use ideas of Picasso, combining both the Blue phase and Cubist element of Picasso’s work into one set of etchings in 1976-77. ‘The Blue Guitar’ used motifs by the great cubist painter in a series of etchings exhibited in the ‘Benaki Exhibition’.

Hockney would continue to be influenced by Picasso. His 68 lithograph/screenprints were all inspired by the old master. It would however be one print ‘Slow Rise’ that truly showed this effect. The series produced in 1994 honours Picasso.

Slow Rise is a painting that again reflects Hockney’s obsession with all things Californian. It shows the Californian climate, notably the sun and also geography of the area, whilst combining all elements of Picasso. The cubist abstract manner of the painting merges elements of both men. From Hockney’s work on stage design he is somewhat of an illusionist and uses this in the painting. He generates a clearly visible landscape that, like in a theatre, a person on the back row would be able to understand. Flat, freestanding components are bold and stressed emphasising their impact on the picture.

With its own unique definable style, this painting is a true sign of the effect that Picasso had on a young impressionable artist back in 1973 when he died.Slow Rise 1994 ‘Secret Knowledge’. Hockney’s book, published in 2001, gives the viewer an insight into the mind of the infamous Pop Artist.

What is most interesting is the perspective Hockney gives us on the old masters works from past centuries. A pop artist viewing renaissance classics was unusual which is why this is a valuable insight into the thinking of this prolific artist. The book contains 460 illustrations to aid Hockney’s points. The book is divided into three sections, visual, textual, and correspondence evidence.

Hockney, never shy of controversy, argued that the old masters used optical instruments to aid them with their masterpieces. A camera lucida is said to be the instrument which allowed them to produce such accurate work. The controversy arising is that such a distinguished painter should turn his back on the great masterpieces of the past. A lack of evidence in the book showing preliminary sketches using the camera and the idea that an artists’ work is done by skill alone.These arguments detracted from Hockney’s views. From the book it is apparent that optical devices were used, but to what extent? My interpretation of the book was even if optical devices were used a lens cannot draw a line. The book does not detract from the old masters’ work.

It does provide an insight into Hockney’s beliefs on art. He is a believer in pure talent and skill. He does understand, that optical assistance does not make or draw a picture/painting but feels that its mere use makes it impure.

‘A Bigger Splash’ The film was released a decade later after being produced in 1974. This work of genius was one of the few films to capture the ‘swinging London’ art and gay scenes which were so closely interlinked at the time. The fictional film is acted with all actors playing themselves. It depicts a fantasy story of David Hockey, a gay painter at the time, being unable to work due to the breaking up with his gay lover. This worrying turn of events created strains between Hockney, his friends and his art dealer. The film continues with Hockney taking inspiration from swimming pools, for which he would become so famous.

This piece of film was famously shot by the photographer Jack Hazan, who managed to capture the essence of Hockney in his prime.Hogarth’s Rake’s progress. In 1961 Hockney set to work on a modern series of prints depicting Hogarth’s ‘Rakes Progress’. These were to reflect his American experiences. In a series of copper plate engravings inspired by those of William Hogarth in the 18th century his 16 plates reflected the experiences he encountered in New York. All his plates would be exhibited in the Benaki Exhibition.Hockney later used this technique in another series of etchings in1969.

This time he compiled “illustrations for six fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm”. Although using a similar process to Hogarth he made his prints uniquely his own, with strict attention paid to geometricity and containment. Hockney disregarded the free style of Hogarth and his frequent use of the colour red. In preparation for this series Hockney felt it necessary to read all 350 tales by the Brother’s Grimm, whilst only choosing 6 tales for his work.