What to expect from David Hockney’s huge new art exhibition

What to expect from David Hockney’s huge new art exhibition

David Hockney "Afternoon Swimming" 1980. Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt
Words by Kate Streader

As one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century, David Hockney’s work has adorned the walls of prestigious galleries the world over; from the Tate to the Guggenheim.

Next month, Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery will join the long list of galleries and museums to have showcased Hockney’s work with its forthcoming exhibition, David Hockney: Prints. Borrowing a selection of his works from the National Gallery of Australia’s broad collection, the exhibition will showcase the trajectory of one of the world’s most revered living artists.

“We’ve got this really extensive collection, hundreds of works – thousands, actually – that go from the early ‘60s, so ‘61 through to, I think our latest work is 2011. So we really cover all the aspects of Hockney’s work,” says Sally Foster, the NGA’s curator of international prints, drawings and illustrated books.

The career-spanning collection includes an array of pivotal works across Hockney’s career, though it’s his work with master printmaker Kenneth Tyler which serves as a central theme across the exhibition.

“This [exhibition] really is a kind of conversation between David and Ken Tyler,” says Foster.

The two first worked together in 1965, shortly after Hockney relocated to LA, in Tyler’s Melrose Avenue studio. It was there the six colour lithographs comprising Hockney’s seminal work, A Hollywood Collection, came to life.

In the years that followed, Tyler and Hockney continued their creative relationship, later making way for his Paper Pools series in which he ‘painted’ scenes using paper pulp to mimic the shimmering hues of water.

It’s this hunger to experiment that’s kept Hockney’s work relevant across the past six decades. Just last year, he broke records when his 1972 painting Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) sold for $90.3 million USD ($133.7 million AUD) – the highest value sale for the work of a living artist to date.

“I think one of the reasons he’s endured – you know, a lot of people have their moment and then die off and just remain in the history books – but he was always really experimental,” says Foster.

“Even in the late ‘80s, when the fax machine came out, he thought ‘Oh, this is something that I could potentially use to make art’ and he sent all these gorgeous, incredible faxes, which are obviously very fragile and difficult to conserve, but we’ve got this amazing collection.

“But it just shows how he was always thinking about technology. So then, with the advent of computers, he used photocopiers and then iPads and iPhones. So anything’s up for grabs for him and he’ll just see what he can do with it, see how it can be used to make art.”

Not only does his experimentation with technology exemplify Hockney’s dexterity as an artist, but it’s also a testament to the personality behind his work. For him, art is fun and you don’t need to be an art critic to be affected by his creations.

“He never took himself too seriously, so it’s not po-faced, it doesn’t alienate; anyone can walk up to a Hockney work and take something away from it, whether it’s its beautiful bright colours or its fun imagery,” says Foster.

“That’s what I really like about him, he was really playful, he had a sort of wry sense of humour.”

In addition to showcasing Hockney’s works, the exhibition also looks to create a sense of the man behind the art through hosting a special talk with his brother, John Hockney. The special event comes ahead of the release of his forthcoming memoir The Hockneys: Never Worry What the Neighbours Think.

“When someone’s so famous, you just feel as though there’s something incredibly special about them, but at the end of the day they’re someone’s brother or someone’s son, they’re just real people. It’ll be really nice to hear what he’s got to say,” says Foster.

David Hockney: Prints comes to Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery from Saturday October 5 until Sunday December 1. For more info, head to the gallery website.