New York Times
December 2, 2016
Beloved for his cool, crystalline paintings of sunlit California bungalows and poolside male nudes of the 1960s and ’70s, David Hockney is often called Britain’s greatest living artist and even the world’s most popular living painter. The cult of Hockney, who is now 79, continues with a batch of new books, including the catalog to 82 Portraits and 1 Still-Life, mounted at the Royal Academy of Arts in London last summer, and A History of Pictures: From the Cave to the Computer Screen, a lavishly illustrated dialogue between the artist and the art critic Martin Gayford. (For the friend who has everything, there’s also David Hockney: A Bigger Book, Taschen’s 75-pound whale of a monograph that comes with a Marc Newson-designed bookstand and a $2,500 price tag.)
Pictures, Hockney and Gayford write in their preface, hinting at their thesis, “have seldom been considered as a single category in themselves.” Photography, painting and cinema, Gayford elaborates, all belong to a common history that “spills over the normal boundaries between high and low culture, moving images and still ones, even good and bad ones.”
Many of the ideas in A History of Pictures are indebted to Hockney’s 2001 book Secret Knowledge, which controversially argued that old master painters from Van Eyck to Ingres employed various proto-photographic gadgets — such as the camera obscura, the camera lucida and the convex mirror — in their optical capture of the world. But A History of Pictures is less a coherent theory than a very sophisticated chat, embellished with a princely collection of images guided by Hockney’s particular tastes. Unimpeachable masterpieces like Velázquez’s Las Meninas join art historical rarities: a woozy early Vermeer; a seminude Orientalist photo shoot art-directed by Eugène Delacroix; Ellsworth Kelly’s abstraction of two contiguous curved volumes said to slyly represent “two boys’ bums together”; a composite photograph of Abraham Lincoln with a Mathew Brady head shot of the president grafted onto the body of the pro-slavery statesman John C. Calhoun.