David Hockney's beautifully complicated relationship with photography
The Getty Museum celebrates the British artist's 80th birthday with a two-part exhibition of rarely seen works
David Hockney has a complicated relationship with photography.
David Hockney | "Paint Trolley, L.A. 1985" | Photographic collage | 40 x 60" | (David Hockney / Photo credit: Richard Schmidt)
A founding member of the British pop art movement in the 1960s, Hockney has used photography to inform his most celebrated paintings — joyously colorful portraits and landscapes that range from photo realist to semi-abstract.
But photography, according to Hockney, has its limits: It can't capture time, has a singular point of view, and, at best, is only good for mechanical reproduction.
"I suppose I never thought the world looked like photographs, really," Hockney told The Guardian in 2004. "A lot of people think it does but it's just one way of seeing it."
And so, Hockney — who in his 50-plus years of making art has always embraced different mediums and new technology — created his own form of photography: Polaroid and photography collages.
Hockney used a cubist perspective, an approach popularized in painting by Pablo Picasso, where the viewpoint continually shifts as your eyes move around the composite picture. And in doing so, Hockney unlocked the constraints of the medium, adding time, texture, and a bewitching movement that can appear to undulate under your gaze.
David Hockney | "Jerry Diving Sunday Feb. 28th 1982" | Composite Polaroid | 10 1/2 x 24 1/2" | (David Hockney / Photo credit: Richard Schmidt)
Hockney's collage photography, which he made primarily in the 1980s, is now being celebrated in a two-part exhibition at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. In honor of the artist's 80th birthday on July 9, Happy Birthday, Mr. Hockney presents his rarely seen self-portraits, Polaroid composites, and photo collages.
"By depicting multiple aspects of the same object, [Hockney's photographic works] encourage viewers to imagine moving through space to experience that object over a more extended period of time," said Virginia Heckert, department head of the Getty Museum's Department of Photographs, and a co-curator of the exhibition.
Like the artist himself, the composites are playful, experimental, and lively. Hockney's embrace of photography and new technology throughout his prolific career illustrates the importance of an open mind, of trying to see the world from a different point of view.
David Hockney | "Still Life Blue Guitar 4th April 1982" | Composite Polaroid | 24 1/2 x 30" | (David Hockney / Photo credit: Richard Schmidt)
David Hockney | Pearlblossom Hwy., 11 - 18th April 1986, #2, April 11-18, 1986. | Chromogenic prints mounted on paper honeycomb panel | 181.6 x 271.8 cm (71 1/2 x 107 in.) | The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles | (1986 David Hockney)
David Hockney | "Nicholas Wilder Studying Picasso. Los Angeles 24th March 1982" | Composite Polaroid | 48 1/2 x 26 1/2" | (David Hockney / Photo credit: Richard Schmidt)
David Hockney | "Blue Terrace Los Angeles March 8th 1982" | Composite Polaroid | 17 1/2 x 17 1/2" | (David Hockney / Photo credit: Richard Schmidt)
David Hockney | "Yellow Chair with Shadow Los Angeles April 18th 1982" | Composite Polaroid | 35 x 20" | (David Hockney / Photo credit: Richard Schmidt)
**Happy Birthday, Mr. Hockney: Self-Portraits, opened June 27, and Happy Birthday, Mr. Hockney: Photographs, opens July 18, are both on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles through November 26, 2017.**