David Hockney was born in Bradford on 9th July 1937 as the fourth of five children. His mother, Laura, was a shop assistant and his father, Kenneth, was an accounting clerk and amateur artist.
Hockney began his education at Wellington Primary School and Bradford Grammar School before attending the Bradford College of Art from 1953 to 1958. His early work features many portraits and figural studies, subjects he would continue to paint throughout his life. In 1957 he was called for National Service. Like his father, however, Hockney was a conscientious objector, so his service period was spent working as a hospital orderly.
In 1959, Hockney began to study at the Royal College of Art in London, where he met the American artist R. B. Kitaj. While at the Royal College of Art, Hockney attended an exhibition on Picasso at the Tate Gallery, fuelling his interest in cubism and its study of human vision and perception. Another influence was the poetry of Walt Whitman, whose work ‘We Two Boys Clinging Together’ would be used as the title of one of Hockney’s paintings from 1961. Many of Hockney’s works from this period reference and explore his homosexuality.
Hockney was chosen as one of the featured artists in the 1960 Young Contemporaries exhibition. The exhibition included works from Kitaj, Peter Blake, and others who would become leading figures of the British Pop Art movement. Pop Art marked a departure from the abstract work which had dominated the art of the previous decades, choosing instead mundane subjects and representational subject matter. In 1962 Hockney graduated with a gold medal, following an amendment to the Royal College’s requirements allowed him to be assessed purely on his artworks rather than an essay.
In 1963 Hockney held his first solo exhibition at John Kasmin’s gallery in London. The exhibition was hugely successful, and sold out. Throughout the mid-1960s and early 1970s, Hockney moved regularly between Britain, Europe and the United States. While in California, he switched from oil to acrylic paints to create landscape paintings and images of swimming pools in broad, smooth colour. Additionally, he was one of the founders of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 1979.
Hockney also began using Polaroids and other photographs as studies and memory aids for composing his canvases. During the 1980s, Hockney used Polaroid and 35mm colour photographs to create photomontages he called “joiners.” These collages were composed of multiple small-scale images glued together to create narrative portraits or landscapes. However, by the end of the 1980s Hockney returned primarily to painting in both oil and acrylic.
As well as paintings and photographs, Hockney has worked extensively in other media. He completed a series of etchings based on Stravinsky’s opera The Rake’s Progress, as well as a number of large-scale lithographs and various aquatints, watercolours and drawings. In 1990 he produced his first digital artwork, a drawing made using an Apple Macintosh computer and printed with a colour laser printer. Hockney has also designed sets for theatre, opera, and ballet, including several touring productions.
Along with numerous artistic publications, Hockney also wrote a book on lost techniques of Old Master painters, a biography of Picasso, and some essays on art.
David Hockney has received numerous awards throughout his lifetime. He is a Royal Academician, a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour, and has been given special accolades by the Royal Photographic Society for his contributions. He declined a knighthood in 1990 but was appointed an Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth II in 2012.
Hockney’s work has been widely exhibited and can be found in public and private collections around the world, including the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate Gallery in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo.
Hockney currently divides his time between his studio in London and his home in Malibu, California. He continues to work, and will be the subject of a large exhibition at the Tate Gallery in early 2017.