The David Hockney retrospective at Tate Britain is billed as the artist's most comprehensive exhibition yet. It is also one of the most popular exhibitions in the history of Tate Britain. Tickets need to be booked in advance, since ticket availability may be limited on the day, as I found out to my dismay when I arrived on Sunday, at what I thought was early in the morning. I did manage to get in, but only two hours later.
The exhibition spans Hockney's entire career, from the paintings he made as a student at the Royal College of Art to his recent iPad drawings. The exhibition is largely arranged chronologically. It shows Hockney reaching an early peak and then a long and gradual decline. In 1964 Hockney moved to Los Angeles and it is here that he painted his best known and indeed his best paintings, including A Bigger Splash (1967) and Portrait of an Artist (Pool With Two Figures) (1972)*. It is fascinating to see the change of style, subject and colour that his move to Los Angeles brought about. After more than fifty years they still look fresh.
In the 1980s Hockney began to experiment with photography, creating cubist collages of Polaroid photos. Dissatisfied with the white borders of Polaroids he turned to 35mm film. His experiments culminated in Pearblossom Highway, 11-18th April 1986, which is my favourite work in the exhibition and worth the ticket price of GBP 19.50.
So much for the good. In the 1980s and 1990s Hockney started making colourful paintings of interiors and of the landscapes of the US South-West and his native Yorkshire, which I found pretty dreadful, I have no other word for it. At best they serve to show how good his work of the mid and late 1960s was.
I admire Hockney for changing his style and ways of working and for his openness to new technologies. It's just that it seems as if with every step he strayed further from his best work, without ever returning to form. From reading some reviews I know that many critics disagree, so don't take my word for it and judge for yourself.
David Hockney is at Tate Britain, London, until 29 May 2017.
(*) Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) sold for $90,312,500 on 15 November 2018 at Christie’s in New York making it one of the most expensive paintings by a living artist.