TASCHEN’s Helen Turner reviews the artist’s most comprehensive show to-date
To describe the Tate’s new David Hockney retrospective as ‘much-anticipated’ is an understatement. Suspense surrounding the blockbuster show has been escalating since the Royal Academy’s 82 Portraits and 1 Still-Life exhibition in summer 2016 - shifting to fever pitch with the autumn launch of TASCHEN’s SUMO-sized monograph David Hockney: A Bigger Book.
Like A Bigger Book, the exhibition at Tate Britain spans 60 years of the artist’s career, from his early sketches as a student at the Royal College of Art to his recent experiments with iPad artwork.
In the first couple of rooms, the Tate invites visitors to consider Hockney’s inquisitive approach to picture-making and constant curiosity towards perspective, abstraction, and spatial awareness. Works such as Tea Painting in an Illusionistic Style from 1961 play with the physical flatness of canvas and its potential to reveal further space within a picture, while the artist’s ‘domestic scenes’ of the early ‘60s examine the relationships between couples and their surroundings. This theme continues with the dual portraits, including the static yet enthralling American Collectors (Fred and Marcia Weisman), which are displayed later in the show.
Once these poised works are left behind, David Hockney swerves towards the artist’s fearless use of colour and medium experimentation. Visitors will probably be most familiar with the sexy warmth of the Los Angeles swimming pool compositions, which seem to radiate both heat and moisture from their sun-kissed surfaces, but the East Yorkshire landscapes and meticulously planned composite Polaroids are just as electrifying in the flesh.
Though they may lack the vibrancy of his enormous impasto canvases, Hockney’s drawings are a graphic tour de force. A number of exquisite sketches, including a graphite and coloured-crayon portrait of Andy Warhol in Paris, 1974, are displayed alongside self-portraits in which Hockney has captured his distinct look in just a few delicate lines. His 1983 charcoal self-portrait created using the camera lucida technique reminds us how much this contemporary icon has probed Old Master techniques in his relentless interrogation of looking and showing.
Hockney recently described many of his earlier works as ‘old friends’, and with his 80th birthday on the horizon, this astonishing exhibition – Hockey’s largest to-date – promises quite the exhilarating party and a major success in the international art calendar.
David Hockney opened at Tate Britain on 9th February and will run until 29th May, before travelling to the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the New York Metropolitan Museum. All images are courtesy of the Tate.
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