Essential Introductions: The Art of David Hockney

Essential Introductions: The Art of David Hockney

David Hockney is one of the most influential British artists of all time. He rose to prominence during the 1960s and remains just as relevant today.

In 2017, David Hockney’s retrospective at Tate Britain received a staggering 478,082 visitors. This made the show the most visited exhibition ever at the gallery.

The popularity of David Hockney’s work is beyond dispute – but what is it that makes his art so special?

As a pioneer of the Pop Art movement, there’s so much more to David Hockney than sun-drenched swimming pools. Today, we take a look at David Hockney’s background, explain the origins of Pop Art and some of his most fascinating works, as well as the prices paid for his paintings.

“To me painting is picture making. I am not that interested in painting that doesn’t depict the visible world. I mean, it might be perfectly good art, it just doesn’t interest me that much.” – David Hockney

Who is David Hockney?

Go ahead and google famous British painters… who would you expect to show up?

J.M.W Turner, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough… and of course, David Hockney.

David Hockney was the fourth of five children. Raised in Bradford, David Hockney studied at Bradford College of Art and the Royal College of Art in London.

Excelling in his studies (graduating with a Gold Medal Distinction), David Hockney befriended Derek Boshier, Peter Phillips, Allen Jones and Patrick Caulfield during his time in London. These five artists later established themselves as the leading British Pop artists of the 1960s.

After teaching at the universities of Iowa, Colorado and California during the mid-1960s, David Hockney permanently settled in Los Angeles. It was this city’s tranquil luminosity, pastel shades and modern aesthetic that transformed his work.

More recently, David Hockney has split his time between America and East Yorkshire, experimenting with painting, photography, collage and iPad art.

What is Pop Art?

Pop Art emerged as a distinct art movement during the 1950s. Culminating in the 1960s, it was inspired by popular and consumer culture – rebelling against the rules of the traditional art world.

The artist Richard Hamilton listed the characteristics of Pop Art in a letter to his friends. He defined it as:
  • Popular: designed for a mass audience 
  • Transient: short-term solutions 
  • Expendable: Easily forgotten 
  • Low-Cost
  • Mass-Produced 
  • Young: aimed at youth 
  • Witty, Sexy, Glamorous 
  • Big Business 

David Hockney and Richard Hamilton were close associates, with David Hockney even painting the artist in 1971. Their bright, bold aesthetic came to define the Pop Art movement.

Looking to contemporary mass culture for inspiration, Pop Art aims to create images that are readily understandable. Consequently, everyday scenes, branded products and company logos are used to show that art could be inspired by anything.

With this in mind, David Hockney frequently took inspiration from his close surroundings, friends and lovers. 

Location, Location, Location

David Hockney’s paintings of Californian swimming pools are his best known works. “A Bigger Splash” is arguably the most famous of these – marked by a vivid luminosity and lust for life.

There are many variations on this theme, including the lithograph “Pool Made with Paper and Blue Ink for book Paper Pools” (below) and the striking, almost surrealist “Water pouring into swimming pool, Santa Monica” (1964).


Splitting his time between California and England, it’s not hard to see how these two locations have influenced David Hockney’s work. When in the UK, the influence of the seasons and natural cycles of the Yorkshire landscape are evidenced. Just take “Hawthorn Bush in Front of a Very Old and Dying Pear Tree” (2019) as an example:

Conversely, David Hockney’s California paintings freeze single moments in dazzling vignettes. The blues of the skies and swimming pools are so clear, it’s tempting to follow the bathers straight in!

Portraiture and Personalities

David Hockney’s work almost always depicts people or locations of great personal significance to the artist. As Pop Art strove to make art more accessible, it follows that artists work with subjects they know intimately. “My Parents” is one of his most famous portraits, expressing the personalities of the two sitters perfectly.

Hockney’s portraits demonstrate a unique tenderness towards his sitters, including friends such as George Lawson and Wayne Sleep. Even when creating advertising, such as in the poster for 1972 the Munich Olympic Games, a gentle subtlety is brought to the work.


The Digital Age

In recent years, David Hockney has made full use of technological advances. He bought his first iPad in 2010, and has used it to make art ever since.

Rain on the Studio Window” is one such example, providing viewers with an intimate look into the artist’s world.

In 2021, he created a digital animation of the sun, bringing the natural landscape to life for outdoor video screens across the globe. David Hockney also opened an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in late May 2021, dedicated to 116 images “painted” on his iPad during the coronavirus pandemic.

What is David Hockney’s art worth?

David Hockney’s art has truly stood the test of time in the art market.

In 2018, “Piscine de Medianoche (Paper Pool 30)” sold for $11.7 million at Sotheby’s in New York, and a 1990’s oil painting, “Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica” sold for $28.5 million. This was a record for the artist.

Later that same year, Christie’s New York sold “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)” for just over $90m. This was the highest auction price ever paid for the work of a living artist, surpassed the following year by Jeff Koons’ “Rabbit” which sold for $91.1m.

More recently, in February 2020, David Hockney’s “The Splash” sold at Sotheby’s London for $29.8 million.

The Artmarket Gallery is an award-winning independent gallery, based in the village of Cottingham, East Yorkshire. We pride ourselves on our friendly and knowledgeable approach, with a team that deeply cares about helping people find artworks they love.

 Browse our large collection of David Hockney’s art, including recent iPad drawings, limited edition prints and drawings. If you’re updating your collection, get in touch with our specialist consultants to discuss buying or selling the work of this truly iconic artist.
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