You can’t open a newspaper or magazine at the moment without David Hockney’s boyish good looks staring out at you, or without seeing one of his ultra-colourful Yorkshire landscapes.
Hockney’s career now spans more than fifty years and has been characterised by a constant and ongoing artistic development. His artistic ‘periods’ include the early 1960s pop paintings, the Bigger Splash and Californian work, the photographic ‘joiners’, and the recent multi-canvas landscapes. Parallel to this development has been his changing status, in the public eye he’s gone from enfant-terrible, to Californian exile, to the UK’s most popular painter.
Hockney has constantly changed, developed, and re-invented himself. So, what can we learn from him?
Firstly, we can learn the pleasures and benefits of curiosity. At the heart of everything he does is a restless questioning, a fascination with new ideas, and a search for new possibilities. Nowhere is this more obvious than in his use of different media. He’s employed the traditional artistic media of pencil and paper, paint and canvas, he’s been an accomplished print-maker, he’s used both film-based and digital photography, made art with faxes and photocopiers, championed the ipad as a serious artistic medium, and in the new exhibition there are multi-camera film pieces too.
Secondly, we can learn that moving on to new ideas and interests need not involve a rejection of the past. For Hockney, moving on has always been a process of adding, of combining old and new skills and interests, of building on achievements. He’s always been striving to create something new that gains strength, meaning and interest from the inclusion of what has gone before.
Sir Isaac Newton said that he achieved what he did because he ‘stood on the shoulders of giants.’ This is the third lesson from Hockney. He has stood on the shoulders of Picasso. For him, Picasso has been a role model – think of Picasso’s lifetime of experimentation and breadth of work, from painting and drawing, to prints, to sculpture and pottery. At times Hockney’s work has shown the stylistic influence of Picasso, but this was never a slavish imitation. What Newton and Hockney share is the ability to absorb, rework and improve the ideas that have come before them.
When we put these aspects of Hockney’s character and career together – the restless curiosity, the constant learning and improvement, the absorption of ideas – we perhaps go some way towards explaining his permanent boyishness, his childlike passions. Hockney has shown us how to grow and mature while staying forever young.
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