Did you know that David Hockney has experimented with different mediums throughout his career?
This section provides further insights into the “bigger picture” of the artist’s creative process and introduces several parts of it: (i) his use of watercolors and acrylic; (ii) his stage and opera designs, such as those made for Igor Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress (1951) and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (1791); (iii) his use of photography-related mediums and optical devices to represent perspective and (iv) his interest in state-of-the-art technology, such as the iPhone and iPad.
Stage design is an important and less-known part of Hockney’s artistic output. He created his first opera design in 1975 for Igor Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress (1951)—see image of one of the original models (ink and photography on cardboard). Afterward, theater became a great influence on his art and aesthetic approach. In his designs, Hockney employs a variety of mediums, such as prints, collage, or painting, which he also applies onto their three-dimensional versions. He often creates models—initially small ones, like the ones shown here. His stage designs for New York’s Metropolitan Opera’s triple bill of Erik Satie’s Parade (1916–17), Francis Poulenc’s Les mamelles de Tirésias (1947), and Maurice Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges (1917–25) as well as a Stravinsky triple bill in 1981—Le sacré du printemps (1913), Le rossignol (1914), Oedipus Rex (1927)—later reappeared in his Los Angeles home, which he painted in the same bright dark red and blue colors. Afterwards, he created designs for Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde (1857–59) in 1987, Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot (1921–24) in 1992 and 1993, and Richard Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten (1918) in 1993 and 1996.
The bright, bold colors and large-scale of the stage designs announce his return some years later to the Yorkshire landscape, featured in the exhibition.
The Arrival of the Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire, in 2011 (twenty-eleven) (2011), a 52-part work consisting of 51 iPad drawings and an oil painting on 32 canvases, can be considered as an evolution of his theatrical vision, as this monumental work also assumes a cinematic quality.
In the early 1960s, David Hockney shifted his attention from oil to the water-based medium of acrylic, which he used for a considerable period of time as this newly developed paint allowed him to capture the quality of the light and the sunny environment of Los Angeles. The resulting vibrant colors are employed to startling effect in paintings of showers, swimming pools, and lawn sprinklers executed in the late 1960s and 1970s.
In the early years of the 21st century, Hockney turned to watercolor, often considered an old-fashioned medium. He mastered it through extensive practice and highly valued the speed of execution it afforded. In 2002–04, Hockney traveled throughout northern and southern Europe, and these trips resulted in a series of landscapes, a “return to simplicity” in his words. In these works, Hockney explores how to create space with only a few lines. Technically, there is no pencil under the color, just paint applied directly onto the paper with “as few brushstrokes as possible” and a limited palette, sometimes only four colors.
When Hockney first started to paint from observation in Bridlington, East Yorkshire, he used watercolor to record the changing landscape through the seasons. The exhibition includes 36 Yorkshire watercolors.
David Hockney has always been radical in his use of unconventional technology to make art, from the Polaroid camera and fax machines to the iPhone in 2009, iPad in 2010, and high-definition DVR more recently; the iPad, in a sense, substituted his need for sketchbooks. Hockney has said that he delights in its immediacy, which allows him to work very fast to capture the changing light and conditions of a scene. When working directly from observation, Hockney uses the Brushes application. In this way, he mimics the Impressionist technique of painting en plein air, often depicting the same subject done at a single location and varying his painting hours or times of the year. Hockney spends hours painting outdoors in all seasons and in a variety of mediums.
The large iPad prints of the monumental Yosemite Valley in California (2011) are explorations of the sublime landscape. In these and other works, Hockney reflects the idea of 18th-century philosopher and politician Edmund Burke, later clarified by German philosopher Immanuel Kant in Critique of Judgment (1790), that beauty “is connected with the form of the object,” having ”boundaries,” while the sublime “is to be found in a formless object,” represented by “boundlessness.”
The use of this tool opened up a whole range of new possibilities for art making and enabled Hockney to produce drawings in different sizes.
Hockney has had a long-term, love-hate relationship with the camera between periods of intense experimentation and attempts to completely reject its influence.
By the 1970s, the use of photography allowed him to be both subject and observer. Family members and close friends became recurrent subjects, both in photography and other mediums. His parents often posed for him, emulating traditional studio paintings, and in the early 1980s his close friends appeared in photographic composites made up of multiple Polaroid snapshots. Evoking Cubist fragmentation, these photocollages are influenced by the work of Pablo Picasso, whom he greatly admired. In this period, Hockney created over 100 Polaroid images and more than 200 photocollages with a Pentax 110 single-lens reflex camera and a 35 mm Nikon. Also, photocopy machines provided Hockney with another tool to produce numerous prints that he sent by fax and allowed him to work on his own and at great speed. These devices opened up a new world to Hockney’s creative process.
An intense period of investigation on the old masters followed, including research on their use of lenses, mirrors, and other optical tools, such as the camera lucida, which was patented in 1807. Experimenting with how this device could have helped artists from the past, he used it to produce more than 280 portraits in 1999–2000.
More recently, Hockney has used digital technology in creating large-scale landscapes made of numerous elements, as seen in this exhibition. In them, photographs were not used in a preparatory phase, but rather helped the artist map the progress from one painting to another; back in the studio, the images could be assembled in a computer to indicate how the entire work would look.