Hockney was born in Bradford, England on 9 July 1937 to Laura and Kenneth Hockney and was educated first at Wellington Primary School, thenBradford Grammar School, Bradford College of Art and the Royal College of Art in London, where he met R. B. Kitaj. While he was there Hockney said he felt at home, he took pride and success in his work here. While a student at the Royal College of Art, Hockney was featured in the exhibition Young Contemporaries – alongside Peter Blake – that announced the arrival of British Pop art. He was associated with the movement, but his early works also displayexpressionist elements, not dissimilar to certain works by Francis Bacon. Sometimes, as in We Two Boys Together Clinging (1961), named after a poem by Walt Whitman, these works make reference to his love for men. From 1963, Hockney was represented by the art dealer John Kasmin. In 1963 Hockney visited New York, making contact with Andy Warhol. A subsequent visit to California, where he lived for many years, inspired Hockney to make a series of paintings of swimming pools in Los Angeles, using the comparatively new acrylic medium and rendered in a highly realistic style using vibrant colours. In 1967, his painting, Peter Getting Out Of Nick's Pool, won the John Moores Painting Prize at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. He made prints, portraits of friends, and stage designs for the Royal Court Theatre, Glyndebourne, La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.
Hockney was born with synesthesia; he sees synesthetic colours to musical stimuli. In general, this does not show up in his painting or photography artwork very much. However, it is a common underlying principle in his construction of stage sets for various ballets and operas, where he bases the background colours and lighting upon his own seen colours while listening to the music of the theatre piece he is working on.
David Hockney has also worked with photography, or, more precisely, photocollage. Using varying numbers of Polaroid snaps or photolab-prints of a single subject Hockney arranged a patchwork to make a composite image. One of his first photomontages was of his mother. Because these photographs are taken from different perspectives and at slightly different times, the result is work that has an affinity with Cubism, which was one of Hockney's major aims – discussing the way human vision works. Some of these pieces are landscapes such as Pearblossom Highway #2, others being portraits, e.g. Kasmin 1982, and My Mother, Bolton Abbey, 1982.
Hockney created these photomontage works mostly between 1970 and 1986. He referred to them as "joiners". He began this style of art by taking Polaroid photographs of one subject and arranging them into a grid layout. The subject would actually move while being photographed so that the piece would show the movements of the subject seen from the photographer's perspective. In later works Hockney changed his technique and moved the camera around the subject instead.
Hockney's creation of the "joiners" occurred accidentally. He noticed in the late sixties that photographers were using cameras with wide-angle lenses to take pictures. He did not like such photographs because they always came out somewhat distorted. He was working on a painting of a living room and terrace in Los Angeles. He took Polaroid shots of the living room and glued them together, not intending for them to be a composition on their own. Upon looking at the final composition, he realized it created a narrative, as if the viewer was moving through the room. He began to work more and more with photography after this discovery and even stopped painting for a period of time to exclusively pursue this new style of photography. Frustrated with the limitations of photography and its 'one eyed' approach, he later returned to painting.
In 1974, Hockney was the subject of Jack Hazan's film, A Bigger Splash (named after one of Hockney's swimming pool paintings from 1967).
In 1977 David Hockney authored a book of etchings called The Blue Guitar: Etchings By David Hockney Who Was Inspired By Wallace Stevens Who Was Inspired By Pablo Picasso. The etchings were inspired by and represented the themes of Stevens' poem, "The Man With The Blue Guitar", which accompanied the art. It was published as a portfolio and as a book in spring 1997 by Petersburg Press.
Hockney was commissioned to design the cover and a series of pages for the December 1985 issue of the French edition of Vogue. Consistent with his interest in cubism and admiration for Pablo Picasso, Hockney chose to paint Celia Birtwell (who appears in several of his works) from different views, as if the eye had scanned her face diagonally.
In December 1985, Hockney was commissioned to draw with the Quantel Paintbox, a computer program that allowed the artist to sketch directly onto the screen. Using this program was similar to drawing on the PET film for prints, with which he'd had much experience. The resulting work was featured in a BBC series profiling a number of artists.
His artwork was used on the front cover of the 1989 British Telecom telephone directory for Bradford.
His A Bigger Grand Canyon, a series of 60 paintings that combined to produce one enormous picture, was bought by the National Gallery of Australia for $4.6 million.
On 21 June 2006, his painting of The Splash fetched £2.6 million – a record for a Hockney painting.
In October 2006 the National Portrait Gallery in London organized one of the largest ever displays of Hockney's portraiture work, including 150 of his paintings, drawings, prints, sketchbooks and photocollages from over five decades. The collection ranged from his earliest self-portraits to work completed in 2005. Hockney himself assisted in displaying the works, and the exhibition, which ran until January 2007, proved to be one of the most successful in the gallery's history.
In June 2007, Hockney's largest painting, Bigger Trees Near Warter, which measures 15x40', was hung in the Royal Academy's largest gallery in their annual Summer Exhibition. This work "is a monumental-scale view of a coppice in Hockney's native Yorkshire, between Bridlington and York. It was painted on 50 individual canvases, mostly working in situ, over five weeks last winter." In 2008, he donated this work to the Tate Gallery in London, saying: "I thought if I'm going to give something to the Tate I want to give them something really good. It's going to be here for a while. I don't want to give things I'm not too proud of...I thought this was a good painting because it's of England...it seems like a good thing to do."
Since 2009, Hockney has painted hundreds of portraits, still lifes and landscapes using the Brushes iPhone
application, often sending them to his friends.
His show Fleurs fraîches (Fresh Flowers) was held at La Fondation Pierre Bergé in Paris. A Fresh-Flowers exhibit opened in 2011 at the Royal Ontario Museum
, featuring over 100 of Hockney's drawings on 25 iPads and 20 iPods.
The Royal Academy is showing an exhibition of Hockney's work called 'A Bigger Picture' from 21 January 2012 to 9 April 2012. The exhibition includes over 150 works by the artist, many of which take entire walls in the gallery's brightly lit rooms. A Bigger Picture is dedicated to landscapes, especially trees, including tree tunnels. Works include oil paintings and watercolors inspired by Hockney's native Yorkshire. Around 50 drawings were created on an iPad and then printed on paper for the exhibition. Hockney stated in a 2012 interview "It’s about big things. You can make paintings bigger. We’re also making photographs bigger, videos bigger, all to do with drawing."
Many of Hockney's works are now housed in Salts Mill, in Saltaire, near his home town of Bradford.
The Hockney-Falco thesis
In the 2001 television programme and book, Secret Knowledge, Hockney posited that the Old Masters used camera obscura techniques, utilized with a concave mirror, which allowed the image of the subject to be projected onto the surface of the painting. Hockney argues that this technique migrated gradually to Italy and most of Europe, and is the reason for the photographic style of painting we see in the Renaissance and later periods of art.