​A Shift in Perspective

The ‘Photographic Drawings’ of David Hockney

When David Hockney returned to Los Angeles from East Yorkshire in 2013, he quickly dedicated himself to a new body of work that would merge two of his greatest fascinations: the intricacies of perspective and evolving imaging technologies. Described by the artist as “photographic drawings” and constructed from hundreds of images, the resulting series pays homage to Paul Cézanne’s Card Players in a manner only Hockney could achieve. The works are at once fantastical and hyper-realist, historically informed and completely disruptive to the visual precedent of privileging a single vanishing point. This work, The Scrabble Players, depicts the artist’s friends at play and self-alludes to earlier works, showcasing Hockney’s innovative approach.

David Hockney, The Scrabble Game January 1, 1983


“Digital photography can free us from a chemically imposed perspective that has lasted for 180 years,” Hockney said of his embrace of the relatively recent medium. And while The Scrabble Players makes use of new technology, it can be considered an extension of Hockney’s practice both in terms of subject matter and creation — his 1983 collage The Scrabble Game January 1, 1983 similarly shows the artist’s friends (and a cat) mid-Scrabble round. As with The Scrabble Players, this work is a composite of layered photographs which Hockney has referred to as a “joiner.” Both works deliberately destabilize the notion that a single viewpoint can truly encapsulate a moment in time.

“What has been absorbing [Hockney] since he was a student in Bradford is this conundrum which preoccupies all painters,” Andrew Wilson, Tate Modern Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, observed, “How do you represent the world of three or four dimensions, plus emotion, in two dimensions? This is the bedrock of his work.” Indeed, Hockney’s firm location in the realm between painting and photography has been critical to his status as beloved icon. Another early Hockney composite, the landscape montage Pearblossom Hwy., 11-18th April, 1986 #2, has been crowned “the most popular image at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.” In a winking gesture, Hockney even placed Pearblossom Hwy. within the composition of this work’s fellow “photographic drawing,” A bigger card players (2015).

David Hockney, A Bigger Card Players

In addition to tireless exploration of new techniques, Hockney has defined himself through a refusal to alienate viewers. As Wilson put it, the artist’s eye “involves a real generosity towards the viewer,” adding that Hockney “wants people to be engaged with his work. He wants their eyes and feelings to be drawn to it.” In the case of The Scrabble Players, the invitation is expressed quite literally: the Scrabble board and its players place the viewer as vanishing point–the alpha and omega of the game. What could be more inviting than that?

David Hockney b. 1937

David Hockney is considered one of the most influential artists of the 20th century and of the British pop art movement. A painter, printmaker, stage designer, and photographer, his unmistakable style breaks boundaries both in the rules of art and across multiple artistic movements. Born in 1937 in Bradford, England he studied at the Royal College of Art, but did not graduate on account of declining to submit an essay along with his final work. In the 1960s, his bright, figurative paintings of Los Angeles swimming pools accompanied by Californian landscapes as wells as personal subject matter including portraits of friends ignited his career. In 1963, at the age of 26, he had his first one-man show and in 1970 the White Chapel Gallery exhibited his first retrospective.

In the early 1980s, he began working in photocollage, or “joiners” as he called them, exploring movement and photography. In a recent 2016 exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, Hockney debuted a series of works created on the iPhone and iPad exhibiting his love for technology.

Hockney is a highly celebrated artist receiving the First Annual Award of Achievement from the Archives of American Art, Los Angeles in 1993, the Lorenzo de’ Medici Lifetime Career Award of the Florence Biennale, Italy in 2003, and appointment to the Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth II in 2012 among many others. His work is also held amongst some of the most distinguished collections around the world including the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Art Institute of Chicago, Tate Gallery London, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C., Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. David Hockney lives and works in the Hollywood Hills, California.

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