Tuesday, September 5, 2017

David Hockney, Contrarian, Shifts Perspectives

by Deborah Solomon

New York Times

September 5, 2017

When David Hockney began his career, figurative painting was considered old hat and even retrogressive. The assumption, in advanced circles, was that abstraction was wholly superior, raising large, lofty questions about the essence of painting instead of getting bogged down in the picayune details of postwar life. What possible wisdom could be gleaned from a painting that depicts a palm tree, for instance, or the glistening turquoise of a backyard swimming pool?

Mr. Hockney, who is often described as England’s most celebrated living artist, has painted those precise subjects and is well aware of the suspicions of triviality his work can arouse. On a recent morning, sitting in his studio in the Hollywood Hills section of Los Angeles, he recalled an amusing snub. He was visiting a gallery in New York, when he bumped into the critic Clement Greenberg, abstract art’s most vociferous defender. “He was with his 8-year-old daughter,” Mr. Hockney remembered, “and he told me that I was her favorite artist. I don’t know if that was a put-down. I suspect it was.” He laughed softly, then added in his gravelly, Yorkshire-inflected voice, “I thought I was a peripheral artist, really.”

Nowadays, in an age when the choice between abstraction and figuration is dismissed as a false dichotomy, and when younger artists imbue their work with once-taboo narrative and autobiography, Mr. Hockney is an artist of unassailable relevance. One suspects we will see as much when a full-dress retrospective of his work opens at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Nov. 27. An agile, inquisitive draftsman inclined to careful observation, he has always culled his subjects from his immediate surroundings. His art acquaints us with his parents, his friends and boyfriends, the rooms he has lived in, the landscapes he knows and loves, and his dachshunds, Boodgie and Stanley. He is probably best-known for his double portraits from the ’60s and his scenes of American leisure, the sunbathers and swimming pools that can have a strange stillness about them, capturing the eternal sunshine of the California mind with an incisiveness that perhaps only an expatriate (or Joan Didion) could muster.

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