Perhaps the most popular and versatile British artist of the 20th century, Hockney is not only a talented painter and printmaker, but also as a photographer and stage designer.
Born in Bradford, England, he studied at the Royal College of Art in London. He first experimented with abstraction, but soon began exploring more personal themes by inserting fragments of poems into his paintings, encouraging a close scrutiny of the surface and creating a symbiotic relationship between the words and images.
Though critics initially regarded him as part of the wave of Pop artists emerging from the Royal College, that idea was cemented as he begain traveling to the U.S. in the early 1960’s, and associating with artists like Andy Warhol. There was, however, a change in his style after he relocated to Los Angeles in 1963. Not only did his subject matter evolve to more sensuous themes, but his medium changed from oil to acrylic in a move to embrace smoother surfaces and brilliant color. He was particularly successful in a series of double portraits of friends, such as Mr. and Mrs. Clark and Percy (1970–71; London, Tate), later voted the most popular modern painting in the Tate Gallery. Hockney also excelled in his drawings from life, particularly in the pen-and-ink portraits executed in a restrained and elegant line.
Hockney’s originality as a printmaker was apparent by the time he produced A Rake’s Progress (1961–3), a series of 16 etchings conceived as a contemporary, autobiographical version of William Hogarth’s visual narrative. Hockney’s large body of graphic work, concentrating on etching and lithography, in itself assured him an important place in modern British art, and in series inspired by literary sources such as Illustrations for Fourteen Poems from C. P. Cavafy (1967), Illustrations for Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm (1969) and The Blue Guitar (1977), he did much to revive the tradition of the livre d’artiste.
Hockney is also noted for his work on theatrical productions, which began in 1975. His most notable designs included productions of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress at Glyndebourne and Mozart’s The Magic Flute in 1978 at the Metropolitan Opera, though there have been many others of note.
In recent years, Hockney has been quick to embrace new technology in the evolution of his art, and he is considered one of the most influential artists of our time. His work is included in numerous museums worldwide, including the Tate Gallery and the Royal Academy in London, The Museum of Modern Art and the Metroplitan Museum in New York, The National Gallery of Art in Washington, the J. Paul Getty and the Los Angeles County Museums, and the Art Institue of Chicago.