David Hockney is celebrated as one of the most important artists of the past fifty years. His work in many media – from painting and drawing to printmaking and photography – only demonstrates a distinctive, playful style and an enduring curiosity about technique.
In celebration of the artist’s 80th birthday on July 9, the J. Paul Getty Museum will present Happy Birthday, Mr. Hockney, a two-part exhibition featuring Hockney’s rarely seen self-portraits, Polaroid composites and photo collages, including the Getty Museum’s masterpiece Pearblossom Hwy., 11–18th April 1986, #2, which was last shown in 2008.
"David Hockney is one of the most prolific and beloved artists of our time," says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. "His light-filled images of Los Angeles, where he has spent much of the past fifty years, have become icons of the city’s creative lifestyle and colourful personalities. Most remarkable of all has been David’s relentless curiosity and inventiveness, exploring new techniques, technologies, and ways of constructing images up to the cusp of his ninth decade. His work remains as fresh and young today as it has ever been."
Happy Birthday, Mr. Hockney: Self-portraits presents a selection of drawn and photographic self-portraits made over the past six decades. At the beginning of his career, Hockney was reluctant to study himself, but as time progressed he made several series of self-portraits at different moments in his life. On view will be self-portraits from each decade of his career, from the 1950s when he was a seventeen-year-old art student up to iPad studies made in 2012.
"Hockney’s self-portraits in many ways reflect his career, exploring interests ranging from his flamboyant fashion sense to his own changing features and the consequences of ageing, but always laced with wit and deep sensitivity," says Julian Brooks, senior curator of drawings at the J. Paul Getty Museum. "They were never intended for commercial sale, and have instead remained with the artist. We are privileged to be exhibiting these rarely seen, intimate works"
The self-portraits also underscore Hockney’s interest in different media, including lithography, photography, and watercolour, and new technologies such as the Xerox copier. In 2012, Hockney enthusiastically adopted the iPad as a drawing tool, and soon mastered the features that distinguished it from media he had employed in the past.
A second gallery, Happy Birthday, Mr. Hockney: Photographs, features a selection of Hockney’s photographs from the 1980s, when he investigated photography’s ability to capture a sense of time and his own presence.
Photography has played an integral role in Hockney’s practice since the 1960s, when he first used a 35mm camera to document family, friends, holidays, and travel, and then to create studies for paintings. Realising that the decisive moment captured in most photographs presents a static view that is contrary to how we actually see the world, he began using a Polaroid SX-70 camera to create multiple views of subjects in instantaneous prints that he then assembled into grids. Both these Polaroid composites and the photo collages that followed anticipated the digital layering and compositing of images with computer software.
The exhibition will include Pearblossom Hwy., 11–18th April 1986, #2, acquired by the Getty Museum in 1997, and one of the artist’s best-known works. The piece depicts a desert road in California’s Antelope Valley, and overlays the mundane observations of a road trip with a witty and perceptive commentary on how to picture the third dimension. It will be the first time in nearly ten years – and only the third time since it was acquired – that this iconic work will be on view.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Hockney will open 18 July at the Getty Center through to 26 November 2017.
Main image: David Hockney, "Paint Trolley, L.A. 1985", Photographic collage 40 x 60" © David Hockney. Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt