David Hockney (Tate Publishing, 2017)


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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 Cany