David Hockney at The Met

Art Scene

David Hockney at The Met

There is an undeniable merriment in the work of painter, David Hockney. It is evident in his evolving use of color and everyday subject matter in a career that has spanned more than 50 years and counting. One can extrapolate that his presence in the Swinging London scene of the early 60s when he was an art school student, and a long held dream to travel to California, fulfilled in 1963, set the stage for what seems to be a delightful satisfaction in putting paint to brush to canvas.

David Hockney at The Met, 2017 Gallery 3, Los Angeles

© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In the exhibition David Hockney, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, a Hockney quote states, “California in my mind was a sunny land of movie studios and beautiful, semi-naked people.” In other words, pure fantasy. In 1963, Hockney had taken his first trip to California, and moved to Los Angeles by 1964. The world he had imagined in his mind growing up in England turned out to be quite close to the real thing, a pleasant surprise indeed. His vision was based on magazine and other media depictions of the place, and he was fortunate enough to land within that particular cultural niche in his new home.

David Hockney, California Art Collector, 1964, Acrylic on canvas

Collection of Giancarlo Giammetti, New York

© David Hockney, Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt

Upon his arrival, Hockney was introduced to local elite and was taken by the general aesthetics of his surroundings – modernist lines, mid-century homes, aquamarine backyard pools, and bright blue skies. An early California work, California Art Collector (1964), presents its female subject as an archetype, representing the social milieu he was introduced to. The two dimensional portrait ignites a sense of storytelling in its representational statement of a particular breed of Californian.

David Hockney at The Met, 2017 Gallery 4, Pair Portraits

© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The exhibition, made up of many rooms representing periods of Hockney’s work, includes a space dedicated to five works from a series made between 1968-1972 of near-life-size double portraits of friends and acquaintances. A tonal range of sensuous blues, greens, aquamarines and the like, one of Hockney’s signature color palettes, as well as clean modernist lines, frame his pairing of two subjects in each painting. Once again, his human subjects allude to a lengthy backstory that Hockney may very well know, but does not share with his viewers. Hockney’s color sense in this series and other work in the exhibition creates a low-frequency, vibrant luminosity that is not intrusive, but asserts its presence.

Bonus for photography enthusiasts is Hockney’s collection of photocollages, made from 1982-1986. They are stunningly creative layerings of anywhere from 20 – 100 snapshots or polaroids carefully arranged to make a single image. Pearblossoms Highway, 11-18th April 1986 #1, the culmination of four years of experimenting with photocollage, is made of 100s of richly colored photographs chosen from 650 rolls of film. The subject is an intersection in the Mojave Desert. Upon close inspection, viewers will notice that each image in the piece is shot from a unique angle, with all angles collectively creating a multiplicity of viewpoints. The work as a whole shows a lonely road, Route 138, vanishing into the background of the image. On either side of the blacktop road with two yellow lines cutting through its center, cactus trees, a green sign reading “California,” and various empty bottles – 7 Up, Pepsi, Miller Lite – give the road context underneath a vast blue sky.

David Hockney at The Met, 2017 Gallery 8, Blue Terraces

© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Hockney, now 80 years old, is still making art, drawing his surroundings on an iPad, his California home last decorated in the 1980s. In the final room of the exhibition, paintings rendered from these iPad drawings reflect his home’s exterior painted in cobalt blue and hot pink amidst green vegetation. Their acid-hued color palette suggests Hockney’s merriment and delight at the everyday joys of life and painting are still keenly active.

David Hockney is on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art through February 25, 2018.