David Hockney’s swimming pool paintings are some of the most popular images from the 1960s. The artist achieved worldwide renown as a flamboyant representative of swinging London and a visual chronicler of the “cool” Californian way of life. In addition, his striking portraits, masterly still lifes and landscapes, photocollages, stage designs, and perceptive engagement with earlier art have for decades secured him a leading place among contemporary artists.
Hockney’s wide-ranging oeuvre is full of surprises. When living in California he addressed the complexities of spatial perception in images that included panoramas of the Grand Canyon, but few people at that time would have guessed that landscape was to become the central focus of his work, as it has in recent years. In 1997 there were signs that Hockney might return to the UK, and in 2005 he finally left Los Angeles for the rural surroundings of East Yorkshire. He began producing a remarkably varied series of landscapes. Occasionally painted in front of the motif, and often on a monumental scale, some of these pictures address the viewer with compelling directness. Others translate the landscape in stylized, ornamental terms, resulting in images whose almost fairytale character transports the spectator into a colorful dream world.
Along with traditional painting techniques, Hockney has engaged intensively with computer drawing. Smartphone touchscreens, and later iPads, have enabled him to work at great speed. The images generated in this way possess an extraordinary vibrancy and immediacy, but their synthetic nature also gives them a strangely unreal aura. They are a major feature of the Cologne exhibition, shown either on small illuminated screens or in the form of large-scale printouts. Since 2010 the artist has also addressed landscape in a number of striking multi-camera video works. This technique, invented by Hockney, conjures a uniquely compelling visual experience by projecting footage of a motif recorded with several cameras onto nine or eighteen screens assembled as a single unit. Engaging with the unusually open quality of the image in its entirety, the viewer begins to see far more actively and with greater awareness than is possible with the fixed viewpoint of a single camera. These works are another major focus of the Cologne exhibition. David Hockney: A Bigger Picture shows an artist repeatedly extending the scope of the classic subject of landscape. All the works on display testify to a deep-seated appreciation of the richness and beauty of the visible world. A piece at the end of the exhibition suddenly broaches yet another theme: twelve jugglers, shown performing in video projections on eighteen screens, provide an unexpected take on the perception of motion in time and space. So visitors leave wondering what the artist will do next. How could it be otherwise with David Hockney?
The exhibition has been organized by the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in cooperation with the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. It is curated by Marco Livingstone and Edith Devaney, in association with Stephan Diederich.