HALF A CENTURY FROM HIS DEBUT AS AN ARTIST, DAVID HOCKNEY ENGLISH BY ORIGIN AND AMERICAN BY ADOPTION IS STILL ONE OF THE GREATEST LIVING INTERPRETER OF FIGURATIVE ART IN THE UK.
The cultural background in which the young British painter conquered his celebrity was a sleepy swinging London that by the end of the 50s was already the core of social changes and dreams that would have soon became reality in televisions, washing machines, canned foods, in cars and pop songs; in the swirl of an enterprising post World War era.
In Just what is it That makes today’s homes so different, so appealing? Richard Hamilton gave with no discounts all the news of a nearby future. Set in a room of a bourgeois apartment the same human beings are dominated by objects. Newly wed Arnolfinis – victims of a ruthless papercut – are far away, and became an object of consumption themselves.
From Hamilton’s collage to David Hockney’s paintings is a short step. Even if he was silently developing the premises, Hockney looks to Pop Art as a stern pioneer, later abandoning it to adopt the stylistic hallmarks of his poetry: a point of view that cuts through the world of relationships and looks further inside it. And painting is his chosen media to spy and show life in a new form. Hockney prefer acrylics to oils, flat backgrounds to chromatic virtuosity, silence to clamor, he doesn’t care about noisy streets and famous faces.
His Domestic Scenes, with their graphic strokes and sharp lines capture the subject like a photograph – which are often his starting material to transpose – everyday moments of lack of communication or disturbing normality. The coolness of the colors express the objects anonymity, barely sketched on shelves and coffee tables, while all around emotionless figures linger in a Hopper silence.
In the late ’60s, after numerous trips Hockney moves permanently to California, whose main features returns in his paintings: the characteristics of a country made of dazzling visions of opulence and high society, to illustrate the status symbols, the loneliness, his own homosexuality, the apparent beauty which acts as a coating to the lack of communication. The naked bodies of young athletes, the showers, the bourgeois interiors and the pools all parts of the American dream that inspired and influenced West World’s imagination, is all concentrated in Hockneys paintings, on the blue backgrounds which consume modern men loneliness.
The idle silence that exudes from the artist perspective can be summarized in works like A bigger splash, an antagonistic version of Warhol’s Pop Art, and also main inspiration of the famous film La Piscine, directed by Jacques Deray with Alain Delon and Romy Schneider. The landscape built by Hockney is so eloquent that it seems to listen a pop song that timidly come from a white living room, the rustling of the palm leaves and then, suddenly, splash! Something just happened – and what remains is just the feeling of a presence, while all around everything go quiet once again after an abrupt pause.
Consumerism and star system evoked and celebrated by Warhol in an impersonal repetition of icons that we think we need, also exists in Hockney art, who, however, allow himself the right of figuration, investigating all relational dysfunctions, typical of what we call “modern era”.
Hockney eclecticism is one of the reasons of his success, in a bustle of poetic research that never lose the distinctive features of his style. The meticulous investigation of life, with an almost documentaristic use of artistic medias, emerges constantly in his works, since his first works in the early ’60s to the famous portraits of his friends ( Lucian Freud and Andy Warhol among others) at first captured by the camera, because “photography can not replace painting” – which returns with the same force in the most recent and evocative landscapes.
Text by Agata Gazzillo