A Review of David Hockney at Tate Britain, London
David Hockney: 60 years of work at London’s Tate Britain is a beautifully-curated retrospective of the artist’s multi-faceted, multi-dimensional oeuvre. Populated with some of Hockney’s most iconic paintings from across the decades, this chronological overview pinpoints the defining moments in his prolific career. His use of colour, his play with artifice and his experimental use of mediums are explored in great depth by the exhibition's team of curators Chris Stephens, Andrew Wilson and Helen Little. They leave us with little doubt as to why David Hockney is considered to be one of the world’s most popular and widely-recognised living artists.
While Hockney’s style and palette have metamorphosed over the decades, his preoccupation with representation and artifice has remained relatively consistent, and this is the dominant theme of the first room; Play within a Play. The technique of presenting a play within a play or indeed a frame within a frame is an age-old meta-theatrical trope used by artists, dramatists and writers to distort our perception of the relationship between fiction and reality. It only takes a matter of time to realise that we, the spectators, are cast as players in the metaphorical frame of Hockney’s exhibition space.
The pastel-coloured walls which backdrop the paintings, and the rather manicured throng of gallery-goers, are themselves transformed into painterly compositions by the overarching hand of the exhibition curators. Throw in a work actually entitled A Play within a Play depicting the legendary art dealer John Kasmin trapped behind a Perspex panel in front of a painted-curtain backdrop and illusion and reality start melding into one. With a subtle but rather brilliant play on one of Hockney’s favourite themes, the exhibition gets off to a good start.
While Hockney’s use of self-parody in his early works of the post-modern era is a little cliché, his versatility and experimental interest in human relationships is refreshingly genuine. As a supporter of gay rights, his homo-erotic portraits of the 1960's challenge traditional depictions of domestic bliss, and embrace a more contemporary ideal of gendered love. Peter Getting Out of Nick’s Pool, 1966, epitomises Hockney’s playful experimentation during this period and his unabashed rejection of the macho impastos of his Abstract-Expressionist predecessors. While portraits such as Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, 1970-1, mark a shift towards naturalism, they also showcase his interest in relationships that are often more complex than first meets the eye.
Although Hockney is primarily recognised today as a portrait and landscape painter, his life-long experimentation with different artistic mediums demonstrates the extent of his intrinsic talent. Drawings are juxtaposed with oils and photographs are juxtaposed with collages. The final room of the exhibition even showcases his newest series of iPad sketches alongside more traditional compositions of the same subject. However, despite tangible disciplinary differences, the majority of his later works are united by a coherent interest in distorted perspectives in interior and exterior spaces. Such techniques are exemplified in the rather abstract composition Going up Garrowby Hill, 2000. Vibrant colours and a winding road that evokes the vertiginous shapes of a theme-park roller-coaster testify to Hockney’s dismissal of stylistic artistic conventions.
Whether you are a Hockney aficionado or not, this exhibition is a stellar showcase of fearless innovation. From the Yorkshire moors to the crystal clear pools of LA and back again, Hockney’s trajectory is one of pure joy and experimentation. As Alex Farquharson, Director, Tate Britain exclaims: ‘Hockney’s impact on post-war art, and culture more generally, is inestimable, and this is a fantastic opportunity to see the full trajectory of his career to date.’ The light and bold colours that emanate from Hockney’s compositions transport you to places you never dreamed of going. And if that is not what artistic creation is all about, then I don’t know what is. This is a show that must be seen.
Written by Lucy Scovell, a Contributor to Arteviste.