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Hockney at 80: Retrospective a 'joyous adventure' in art
David Hockney, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), 1971. Private Collection © David Hockney.

by Florence Biedermann

LONDON (AFP).- David Hockney is marking his 80th birthday this year with a major retrospective of his work in London, which attempts to explore what turns an artist into a popular star.

More than 200 of the celebrated British painter's works are on show at the Tate Britain gallery from Thursday until May 29, covering his early drawings right through to his latest works created on an iPad.

They include his 1960s Californian swimming pool series, his 1970s double portraits and more recent works in the bright landscapes of his native Yorkshire in northern England.

Tate Britain said it was the world's most extensive retrospective of Hockney's work.

"It will shed a new light on his relationship to the development of his art; how to picture the world, represent the experience of being alive," said the gallery's director Alex Farquharson.

"He always questioned what a picture is."

The exhibition was put together in collaboration with the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the show will visit those institutions after its London run.

Paintings as 'old friends'
Hockney also had a hand in bringing the exhibition to fruition.

"It has been a pleasure to revisit works I made decades ago," the artist said.
"Many of them seem like old friends to me now."

Chris Stephens, the exhibition's curator, said Hockney's works were "what is art all about -- why do we capture the world in pictures?

"Hockney has a popularity, a level of recognition far greater than almost any other artist in the world," he told AFP, adding that did not mean his works were not "serious".

Hockney's art is the "joyous adventure of transforming what he sees in pictures", Stephens said.

Less tortured than his fellow British artists Francis Bacon or Lucian Freud, less conceptual than Damien Hirst, Hockney's world is one of light, bright colours and open spaces.

"I paint what I like, when I like, and where I like, with occasional nostalgic journeys," he once said.

Even in picking mundane subjects, Hockney has captured the collective imagination with his vivid style.

"The swimming pools looked so exotic in the 1960s and also we were not that familiar with Los Angeles topography," said Stephens.

The artist often picked those close to him, including his lovers, as the subjects of his paintings, capturing them in natural poses such as resting by a swimming pool or in the shower.

Inspired by an exhibition he saw in the 1950s of Russian ballet dancer Serge Diaghilev, Hockney vowed to be open about his own sexuality. His parents were accepting of his being gay despite prejudices of the era, he told the Guardian.

In a 2015 interview with the newspaper, Hockney recalled losing "lots of people" to the AIDS epidemic during the 1980s, a period he said "changed New York".

Photography and iPad art
One of Hockney's most famous works is "A Bigger Splash", which shows the moment after someone has leapt from a diving board into the water below.

Equally celebrated is his series of double portraits in acrylic paint, which include the late author Christopher Isherwood among others.

The exhibition also features Hockney's photographic work, in which the artist recreates scenes by piecing together hundreds of images. The playful effect was used in the artist's "Pearlblossom Highway" work which shows a clutter of US signs with cacti by the roadside.

The rolling hills of the Yorkshire Wolds, painted in the 1980s, are surprisingly bright and colourful, deliberately recalling the Fauvism style inspired by the likes of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cezanne.

The only sombre note is "The Arrival of Spring in 2013", a series of 25 charcoal drawings of trees, where, according to Stevens, Hockney conveys a strong sense of his own mortality.

Hockney moved back to California in 2013 and two new paintings of his home and garden in Los Angeles are being shown for the first time, his balcony a bold shade of blue.

The exhibition concludes with pictures drawn on an iPad, Hockney's current method of working as he embraces modern technology to turn how he sees the world into pictures.

© Agence France-Presse

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