The Metropolitan Museum of Art hosted its first major retrospective exhibition of British painter David Hockney in nearly 30 years, named after the artist. The exhibit received much buzz and a spot adjacent to the Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer exhibition.
Ian Alteveer curated the exhibit with assistance from Meredith Brown, creating a timeline of Hockney’s paintings which began with the artist’s work in the 1960s as a graduate student, and ended with his contemporary take on digital painting with an iPad. The collection takes the viewer on a journey through Hockney’s development from abstract painting, to figural masterpieces and finally a cross between abstraction and vibrant topographical landscapes.
Hockney’s style is one that defies expectations. From the onset, his work is contradictory, mixing abstraction with written language as he incorporates the names of people and places in his life into his brushstrokes. The concrete language on the canvas provides a foothold for what would otherwise be incoherent blobs of paint. Even in his earlier pieces where there is much ado about nothing, the monotonous tones of color bleed into one another to form the impression that the artist is in a state of transition.
Hockney’s 1962 “Cleaning Teeth, Early Evening” is a work that subversively introduces homosexuality as a theme in the artist’s work, and an early example of his transition into more figurative pieces. Two figures lie on top of each other, colored blue and red, with their mouths open and ready to receive bottles of Colgate protruding from their respective groin areas.
The painting was produced at a time when similar media would be considered taboo. As such, the work became a poignant example of the LGBTQ underworld beginning to make waves in art forums. The piece precedes Hockney’s travels to the United States, where he would frequent states such as California and portray citizens in an artistic way, focusing on the relationships between couples. “Domestic Scene, Los Angeles,” which came out in 1963, shows an intimate moment between two men as one washes the other’s back in a shower.
Besides the figures, most of the scene is devoid of detail, yet resonates as a timeless figuration of the depth of care that one can feel for their significant other.
“A Bigger Splash,” created in 1967, takes place in the milliseconds after someone dives into a pool and juxtaposes the motion of a water splash with the flatness of the surrounding backyard and home. The result is an image that is compelling in its depiction of the minuteness of everyday moments. Hockney took several weeks to paint the splash, which in turn was over in a matter of seconds.
In an interval between his figural and topographical pieces, Hockney indulged in mixed media and photography, creating elaborate collages of roads and places in his life that seem to hold little significance in the grand narrative of his experiences. The works are portrayed realistically but can never be re-created due to the meshing of different angles and perspectives.
Before depicting the rolling hills of California in vibrant brushstrokes, Hockney dove into the digital realm and rendered homely scenes of early mornings in his household using an iPad.
The exhibition makes use of these drawings by providing video footage of the artist’s process, showcasing each brushstroke in a mesmerizing time-lapse.
Although a third of the exhibition is dedicated to the landscapes of California, these paintings are the least interesting of the retrospective and take the perspective of a stranger’s point of view, lacking the intimacy that made Hockney’s double-portraits breathtaking. The exhibition is on view now until Feb. 25.
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