David Hockney Dazzles at the Met

Text by Mary Gregory,  Photos by Adel Gorgy

These are the final days to see the remarkable David Hockney retrospective at the Met Fifth Avenue which runs through February 25th. Hockney, the beloved octogenarian British artist, is regarded by some as the greatest living painter in the world. The Met’s exhibition brings together drawings, photograph collages, vivid iPad compositions, and, most importantly, room after room of vibrant, glorious paintings.  

The works chart the course of Hockney’s almost 60 year career, and show the development of an artist from a young, somewhat tentative, gay man, just finding his artistic voice, to a ripe, brilliant colorist, comfortable and confident as he celebrates the beauty of life.  

David Hockney, The Cha-Cha That Was Danced in the Early Hours of 24th March, 1961, Oil on canvas, 68 × 60 1/2 in., Private collection, © David Hockney  Photo by Adel Gorgy

Early works made in England around 1960 show Hockney experimenting with modernist styles, plumbing depths of expression and abstraction others had explored, but giving them his own twist. “Love Painting” and “The Third Love Painting” are dense abstractions with layers of paint, bits of text, floating planes of color, drips and scratches. Nothing that hadn’t been done before, but bits of wry wit that infuse many later works already come through.

David Hockney, My Parents, 1977, Oil on canvas, 72 × 72 in., Tate, © David Hockney Photo by Adel Gorgy

A few years later, Hockney would travel to California, where he responded to the sun-drenched landscape, the cool, mid-century modern architecture, and a gay community more comfortable with itself than the one he had known in England. In the 1970s, he produced some of the works he’s most known for, featuring bright pops of color, flattened space and a sense of celebration and joy in everyday visions.  

David Hockney, Rubber Ring Floating in a Swimming Pool, 1971, Acrylic on canvas, 36 × 48 1/16 in., Private collection © David Hockney  Photo by Adel Gorgy

And, here’s where the exhibition becomes something transcendent. Due to his lack of pretense, his careful observation, and the loving eye he turns on the world, Hockney’s exhibition offers a unique and somewhat startling experience. In painting after painting, conscientious viewing allows us to see through the eyes of the artist. His works break the world into color and form. Instead of a swimming pool, Hockney presents a blue rectangle. Rather than depicting a pool toy, he paints a red circle. An apartment building with light glinting off the windows is transformed into a blue-green grid. Jets of spray from an underground sprinkler are turned into triangles of white on a bright green lawn. All becomes form, color, shape, line, movement and depth, and all delight the eye.

David Hockney, Interior with Blue Terrace and Garden, 2017, Acrylic on canvas, 48 × 96 in., Collection of the artist, © David Hockney  Photo by Adel Gorgy

David Hockney, The Eleventh V. N. Painting, 1992, Oil on canvas, 24 × 36 in., The David Hockney Foundation, © David Hockney  Photo by Adel Gorgy

But even these ebullient evocations of life and domesticity don’t prepare the viewer for the kaleidoscopic, unrestrained effervescence of Hockney’s work in the final few galleries. Here, in works form the 1980s through the present, Hockney’s paintings shift into unadulterated color, fluid lines, and the pure joy of mark making.  

David Hockney, The Other Side, 1991-1993, Oil on canvas, Two canvases: 72 1/16 × 60 in. and 72 1/16 × 72 1/16 in., Salts Mill, Saltaire, Bradford, © David Hockney  Photo by Adel Gorgy

The artist’s vision is Technicolor bold, with azure, ruby and emerald, golden yellow and bubble gum pink defining landscapes, interiors, still lifes, and abstractions both real and imagined. Grids of lines are incised with tools, or the handles of brushes. Colors are laid in lovingly with careful brushstrokes or quickly with what look like Hockney’s fingers.  t’s art about the joy of art.  

David Hockney, Hawthorn Blossom near Rudston, 2008, Oil on canvas, Two canvases: 60 × 48 in. each, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Riggio, © David Hockney  Photo by Adel Gorgy

The Met’s retrospective of David Hockney’s work is, in a word, stunning. But there are plenty of other words that apply as well. Dazzling. Resplendent. Moving. Elevating. Enlightening. Inspiring. Don’t miss it. 

Top Photo: David Hockney, Hollywood Hills House, 1981-1982, Oil, charcoal, and collage on canvas, Three canvases: 60 × 40 in. (152.4 × 101.6 cm) each, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Gift of Penny and Mike Winton, 1983, © David Hockney  Photo by Adel Gorgy