Thomaï Serdari on Fine Arts & Luxury
High and Low
David Hockney. The Jugglers, June 24th, 2012. Courtesy of The Whitney Museum of American Art.

David Hockney. The Jugglers, June 24th, 2012. Courtesy of The Whitney Museum of American Art.

David Hockney (1937- ), the English painter, printmaker, photographer and stage designer, owes his notoriety to the resistance with which the public accepts new forms of art. A myopic reception of art and consequently its categorization in styles and media have persisted for more than three centuries. Hockney seems to defy them all.

An audacious homosexual, Hockney, made waves in 1961 with his painting We Two Boys Together Clinging both because of the work’s taboo theme and its mix of high emotions with low life, academic art with graffiti accents. Since then, Hockney has been accused of commercializing his work and of choosing to depict the superficiality of homosexual life as he observed it in California after his move there in 1963. His works are primarily known for their flatness, richness of color, sunbathed Californian scenes, and sensuality. A voyeur of gaiety, Hockney, enables his public’s escapism.

These paintings are in sharp contrast with Hockney’s more esoteric creations, namely his graphic work (primarily etchings and lithography) with which he illustrated important literary sources and that led him to revive the tradition of livre d’artiste (artists’ books). Almost concurrently with these small-scale works, Hockney worked on stage design for several operatic productions (including works by Stravinsky, Mozart, Ravel, and Wagner at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles Music Center Opera, the Royal Opera House etc.) and produced a large body of work characterized by its inventiveness and its break from traditional naturalistic depictions.

An avid photographer, Hockney “directed his attention to theories on perspective in large panoramic scenes that combine direct observation with memory as a means of suggesting movement through space” (Oxford Dictionary of Art) and continued to innovate by transferring the lessons he acquired through photography on to his new series of large canvas paintings.

Just last year, the Royal Academy hosted Hockney’s new exhibition in which the artist featured landscapes drawn on an iPad and then blown up and printed on paper (“David Hockney: A Bigger Picture”). This year, Hockney’s eighteen-screen video installation is displayed at the Whitney Museum of American Art (May 23- September 1, 2013) and titled “David Hockney: The Jugglers.” The installation runs for nine minutes and includes a musical soundtrack that imbues the piece with rhythm and transfers the sensorial experience from the screen to the viewer. Hockney’s aesthetics notwithstanding (bright colors, large proportions, flat surfaces, absence of shadows), this piece is a great example of how various traditions, styles, and media may mix together to challenge neat categorizations. It also speaks of Hockney’s consistency in seeking to represent the “high” and “low” of life and art. In doing so the artist remains current and modern and unclassifiable. And so be it.

© Thomaï Serdari