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David Hockney (Tate Publishing, 2017)

Author's own image

Hockney. He doesn’t need his first name. The hair, the glasses, the colours – his art is as recognisable as it is ubiquitous. As Chris Stephens comments in the catalogue that accompanied Hockney’s retrospective exhibition at Tate, ‘his work reaches audiences otherwise largely untouched by high art’. The catalogue explores the reasons for this in six insightful essays, illustrated with beautiful high-resolution reproductions, from his art school output to experiments with digital iPad drawings.

The catalogue’s editors’ intent is clear: to comprehensively survey Hockney’s breadth, versatility and complexity in order to safeguard his (and the exhibition’s) place in the canon of British art. This direct critical attention is especially necessary in the case of popular artists such as Hockney, for this same popularity makes him easy to dismiss. Martin Hammer positions him as a philosophical artist who has interrogated multiple media and is consistent with the theories of Ernst Gombrich and Richard Wollheim. The scholar David Alan Mellor examines Hockney’s cultural influences and situates him in a wider artistic and political context beyond swimming pools and pop art.

The catalogue does well in organising the diversity of Hockney’s output. It begins with thematic sections that are broadly chronological but divided by subject matter then medium, resulting in a romp through this incomparable oeuvre. A particular delight is the attention paid to how Hockney worked towards a naturalistic representation of the human figure, bringing to life the people he surrounded himself with, which included the likes of W.H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, and Andy Warhol. The focus on Hockney’s landscapes is also welcome, as they are emerging as increasingly important examples of landscape psychogeography. Lawrence Weschler first proposed the link between the considerable number of deaths Hockney experienced and his Yorkshire and Grand Canyon landscapes. Weschler wrote to Hockney that it was ‘an almost defiant throwing in the face of death this love of life … you keep returning to magnificence and awe and – might the proper word be reverence? – as responses to all this devastation.’

Available in both a striking orange hardback and a colourful paperback, the catalogue retains the nostalgia and familiarity that imbues Hockney’s work, which will please those who buy this simply as a coffee table book, and is a must-have for anyone who wants to colour-match his paintings to wall samples, as this woman famously did:

It is a shame that more of his works on paper are not included, although the material is so vast it would have been impossible to dedicate enough attention to everything. I also think that fewer pages could have been given to his digital work, as I suspect his paintings, drawings and Polaroids will outlast them. The catalogue (which echoes the exhibition) uses broad strokes, sometimes looking at things closely but mostly conveying the scope of this man’s work.

If you’re in Paris or New York City this year, the exhibition will be on show at the Pompidou Centre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art respectively. If you are not so fortunate, and you missed it at Tate Britain, I urge you to order the catalogue and abandon yourself to the polychromatic joy of being in the company of Hockney.


The book was kindly provided for review by Museum Bookstore. Museum Bookstore offers a huge range of exhibition catalogues, past and present. They also offer personalised shopping services for that particularly hard to find book or if you just need some inspiration for a special gift. You can view Museum Bookstore's extensive collection of books here.


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