Hockney was a notable contributor to the pop art movement in Britain, both in its foundation and growth. His career in the arts expanded to photography, stage design, and printing throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Hockney exhibits continue to be shown at galleries in Britain and the USA.
Born in Bradford, England in 1937 to Laura and Kenneth Hockney, David Hockney was the fourth of five children. His father Kenneth Hockney had been a conscientious objector during the second world war. David himself followed in these footsteps during his national service, being trained for non-combat roles. He came from a strictly Methodist Christian family, his parents were strictly against smoking, something he would later be very much in favour of.
He was educated at Wellington Primary School where he attained a scholarship to Bradford Grammar School. During his time at grammar school, Hockney developed a penchant for art, enjoying his art classes more than other lessons and drawing for the school newspaper. After his request for a transfer to Bradford Arts College was turned down he finished his studies and finally enrolled at the art college in 1953.
Hockney's characteristic style of oil painting was learned and honed during his time at the Bradford Arts College. Oil painting would become his main method of choice for much of his life. He achieved a National Diploma in Design Examination and graduated from the art college in 1958. The following year Hockney enrolled at the Royal College of Art in London. He had already been to see art exhibits in London several times as a student at the Bradford Arts College.
At the RCA Hockney became friends with Peter Blake, the artist who later went on to design the iconic Beatles' album sleeve for "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band". Together they featured in an annual exhibition called "Young Contemporaries" supported by British Society of Artists Galleries in 1960. The exhibition was the beginning of Hockney's recognition in the art world. It was at the RCA, where he felt at home and free to experiment, that Hockney's homosexuality was first explored in his artwork. Unlike his contemporary, Andy Warhol, Hockney would use homosexuality as a theme in his art throughout his life.
His first visit to the USA came in 1961 while he was still studying at the RCA. He paid for the trip by selling his paintings. In New York he met other artists, most notably Andy Warhol. Returning to Britain, Hockney finished his studies at the RCA in 1962. There he caused a stir by refusing to take his final written exam, insisting that he should be judged on his artwork alone. The RCA recognized his talent and Hockney was awarded his diploma.
The year following his graduation from RCA Hockney returned to the United States where he lived for a year. Going to California in 1964 he found himself incredibly inspired by it. The more naturalistic elements of his style that he is most well known for developed during this time. Paintings such as "Beverly Hills Housewife" and "A Bigger Splash" began to define his artwork inspired by California.
During the summer of 1964, Hockney was invited to teach at the University of Iowa. While he completed six paintings during his time there, he was not overly enthusiastic about it. In the same year, his first American art exhibition was held and every painting was sold. In late 1964 he went back to Britain to hold a talk on homosexual imagery in art.
During 1965 Hockney returned to the USA once more, this time to teach at the University of Colorado. Upon returning to California at the end of his teaching term, Hockney was approached by the company Gemini G.E.L to create a series of lithographs with a Los Angeles theme. The six colour lithographs became known as "A Hollywood Collection". Throughout the late 1960s, Hockney frequently created portrait paintings of relatives, friends, and lovers. He would return to these subjects repeatedly over the years.
Hockney entered into a romance with a young man named Peter Schlesinger in 1967. The two were happy for a time and lived together in Los Angeles. They also toured Europe together. Schlesinger was the subject of various paintings and photographs by Hockney. After several years the two experienced difficulties in their relationship and split up in 1971. In the same year after extensive work, continuing with his portrait themes Hockney finished his painting "Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy". It was displayed at National Portrait Gallery in London.
Filmmaker Jack Hazan released a biographical film about Hockney in 1974. Hockney was apprehensive in his reaction to the film, it portrayed many personal aspects of his life, but he eventually gave his permission for its release. By this time Hockney had become a cultural icon in the British and American art world.
Entering the mid-1970s Hockney was inspired by poet Wallace Stevens to create a series of etchings titled “The Blue Guitar: Etchings By David Hockney Who Was Inspired By Wallace Stevens Who Was Inspired By Pablo Picasso“. His lithograph work also continued with his creation of a series titled "Friends" for the workshop Gemini G.E.L. In 1978 he finished work on "The Magic Flute" and decided to make Los Angeles his permanent residence. Hockney experimented with ink painting and paper pulp for a brief period. He helped to establish the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 1979, giving back to a city that he has lived in for decades.
David Hockney greatly expanded his experimental work in the 1980s. He began to create photo collages that he called "Joiners". Utilizing a Polaroid camera, and later 35mm commercial colour prints, Hockney took thousands of photographs in his travels and used them to create photo collages and montages. He viewed this method of art as a way of setting a narrative that paintings couldn't. Joiners came into being by accident when Hockney tried gluing together Polaroid photos of his living room in Los Angeles. He created Joiners of both portraits and landscapes but eventually decided to return to painting, describing photography as a "one-eyed" approach to art.
Hockney had been commissioned to create a work for the French edition of vogue in 1985. Celia Birtwell was an acquaintance of Hockney and because both were admirers of the famous painter Pablo Picasso, Hockney chose to paint her in the style of cubism for the cover of Vogue magazine.
Consistent with his experimental interests, Hockney drew a series of sketches on the Quantel Paintbox. The Quantel Paintbox was a new kind of computer software that enabled the user to sketch onto the screen. Many of the resulting sketches were aired on the British Broadcasting Company as part of a television series on artists. Using new technologies and methods to create art kept Hockney's artwork unique and varied over time. In keeping with this, he printed his first piece of artwork with a laser printer in 1990. Faxing artwork to his friends was almost a hobby in itself for Hockney.
Set design had been an interest of Hockney since the mid-1970s but he began to dedicate more of his time to it in the early 1990s. He worked on sets for Chicago Lyric Opera and the London Royal Opera House, then in 1994 sets for the televised Plácido Domingo's Operalia in Mexico.
In 1995 came a touring exhibition of Hockney’s work, it traveled from Hamburg, Germany to London, Britain and finally to Los Angeles, California. Exhibitions and tours around various parts of the world made up a large part of his illustrious career. By this time he was alternating between living in California and England. In England, he finished countryside landscapes like "North Yorkshire" and "Garrowby Hill". While in Los Angeles he created "A Bigger Grand Canyon" a set of 60 smaller paintings depicting the Grand Canyon. The whole set was on display at the National Museum of American Art in Washington D.C until it was bought by the National Gallery of Australia where the work now resides.
His father Kenneth Hockney died in 1979 and when the 1990s arrived Hockney began to visit his aging mother Laura in England more frequently. In the late 1990s at the behest of a close friend, Jonathan Silver, Hockney began to paint local scenery. Some painting was done live in the countryside and some from memory. Laura Hockney died in May 1990. David continued to live between Los Angeles and England for many years. He eventually set up an art studio for himself in Bridlington, a town on the seaside close to his birthplace. Countryside landscapes became have become a large part of his work since the late 1990s. Especially landscapes of Yorkshire, where he grew up.
Hockney kept traveling during the early 2000s. In 2001 he visited Belgium, England, Germany, and Italy. He worked with the BBC on a documentary titled "David Hockney’s Secret Knowledge" and held exhibitions in the USA and Germany. More time was dedicated to his writing as well. The author of several books about art and his other areas of interest, in 2001 "Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the lost techniques of the Old Masters" was published.
Between 2003-2004 Hockney studied watercolour painting extensively in several countries. He used this to create watercolour landscapes of the Yorkshire countryside. His studying of watercolour art influenced his later oil paintings.
The largest piece of art painted by Hockney is "Bigger Trees Near Warter", a landscape painted on 50 canvasses over five weeks. After first being hung in the Royal Academy of Arts, Hockney donated "Bigger Trees Near Warter" to the Tate Gallery in London, saying "I thought if I'm going to give something to the Tate I want to give them something really good. It's going to be here for a while. I don't want to give things I'm not too proud of.".
Experimenting further with art and technology, Hockney has drawn extensively with iPad's. The 2011 Fresh-Flowers exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada displayed many of his iPad drawings. Many of his later works have been landscapes and in keeping with this and his use of technology, he sketched Yosemite National Park, California, with an iPad in late 2011.
Today David Hockney continues to split his time living in both California and London having sold his Bridlington house in 2015. He still paints, writes, tours, and holds exhibitions around the world. A poll by The Other Art Fair in which 1000 British painters participated named him the most influential British artist of all time. He set up the David Hockney Foundation in 2012 to help preserve his artwork and ensure it goes to public galleries rather than private collectors. He funds and donates paintings to the foundation to this day.