David Hockney prints: the National Gallery of Australia Collection

Over a lifetime of printmaking David Hockney has produced a significant body of work. Through his prints he combines his extraordinary gift for drawing with a singular imagination and great technical facility and inventiveness. Visitors to the National Gallery of Australia can view highlights from the NGA’s significant collection of the artist’s prints on display now, and you can discover more about the artist’s evolution in our major new publication.

David Hockney prints: the National Gallery of Australia Collection by Dr Jane Kinsman is a comprehensive and richly illustrated publication that covers the full range of Hockney’s printmaking practice, from etchings, lithographs and screenprints to paper pulp works, photocopies, faxes and iPad drawings, many drawn from Kenneth Tyler Print Collection.

david_hockney_printsThe book is available in-store at the NGA bookshop as well as online. Below we are sharing an excerpt, taken from the introduction.

 


Introduction

I love new mediums. I think mediums can turn you on, they can excite you; they always let you do something in a different way, even if you take the same subject, if you draw it in a different way, or if you are forced to simplify it, to make it bold because it is too finicky, I like that.[1]

David Hockney is an important and influential figure in modern-day printmaking. Since 1954, making prints has been an integral part of his art practice and he has excelled in the field. During a period that has witnessed a revival in this art form, Hockney has created a significant body of work. Through constant experimentation and innovation he has pushed the boundaries of printmaking in terms of style, subject matter, technique and scale, giving him a different point of view in his art practice.

Importantly, printmaking provided Hockney with a diversion when other forms of his art, notably painting, were in a stylistic and iconographic cul-de-sac. The history of Hockney’s involvement in making prints has formed a critical path in his overall artistic development in all its variety of forms. For much of his life as an artist, he has been freer, more experimental and less inhibited in his approach to creating art when making prints, and later iPhone and iPad drawings, than when painting. Hockney’s artistic development has been characterised by one obsessive focus replacing another. This is especially evident in his career as a printmaker, highlighting his natural way of working.

Hockney’s development from an emerging artist to a mature and successful one lay in his constant searching for new ways of depiction. He was constantly posing pictorial problems and then trying to solve them. To this end, Hockney developed a hybrid art in his printmaking, one of wide ranging eclecticism. He then turned to naturalism, only to find he needed to explore other choices, ultimately rejecting the Renaissance tradition of one-point perspective. The emergence of new styles, such as Pop Art, had an influence on his printmaking, as has his lifelong admiration for Pablo Picasso, and his personal interpretation of Cubism played a significant role in his art. As a mature artist Hockney achieved a fusion of the abstract and formal elements in his work to tackle age-old issues—how to portray someone, how to depict a landscape and season, time of day and weather conditions, and how to indicate space and time in two-dimensional art forms. For Hockney, printmaking has been an integral part of this search and discovery.

Hockney’s initial chosen methods of lithography and then etching, so suitable for an artist whose prime focus was on drawing, beguiled him from the very beginning as he honed his skill as a gifted draughtsman. As an artist he has always been fascinated with various ways of making art, and in printmaking he experimented with ‘homemade prints’, using photocopies and faxes, as well as computer drawings as a precursor to his current iPhone and iPad work.

Over his printmaking career, Hockney was the only artist to work at all four of master printer and publisher Kenneth Tyler’s print workshops—Gemini, Gemini GEL, Tyler Workshop Ltd and Tyler Graphics Ltd. The workshop was not just real estate and machines. Hockney developed his printmaking in a dynamic space fostered by Tyler, where technical experimentation, risk taking, boundless daring and exploration blossomed. This turbo-charged setting was often accompanied by dry humoured banter between the two men. Recalling the experience of his various workshops, Tyler spoke of the changes that had taken place over the years as a printer–publisher working with a stable of artists:

We kept repeating our visits with artists as much as we could … We had developed the art of the mixed media print to quite a new height and there wasn’t quite anything we couldn’t do by bringing all the mediums together. And indeed it became like a candy store for the artist and no matter what their fancy might have been, technique wise we were able to pull it off pretty quickly.[2]

Hockney’s collaboration with Tyler over many years has produced a remarkable group of prints, from his successful 1965 series A Hollywood collection to his groundbreaking paper pulp works Paper pools 1978, and the inventive Moving focus series of the 1980s, among many others. Hockney was one of the most ingenious and inventive printmakers working collaboratively with Tyler. Reflecting on his work with Hockney, Tyler wrote:

The artist plays an important role in this evolution [of techniques], since it’s his or her imagery that the printers are experimenting with. In David’s case, as one of the most process minded artists to collaborate in a workshop, he would get turned on by a particular step in the printmaking and then try to adapt or alter his drawing so both artist and printer has success. Keeping all avenues open for constant experimentation is what I call the ‘building block’ approach. Each step as represented as a ‘building block’ adds up eventually to some breakthrough.[3]

Tyler’s technical expertise allowed Hockney to explore the endless possibilities of printmaking and was important in his evolution as an artist. Now in the twenty-first century, Hockney’s search for more spontaneity and independence has set him on a new course, with his embrace of new technologies leading him into innovative methods of printmaking in the digital world.

Dr Jane Kinsman, Head of International Art, National Gallery of Australia, 2017


[1] David Hockney quoted in Nikos Stangos (ed), David Hockney: Paper pools, Thames and Hudson, 1980, p 10.

[2] Ken Tyler Qantas Lecture Series, National Gallery of Australia, 14 October 1999. As part of the Ken Tyler Archive, The National Gallery of Australia holds a collection of the printer’s job sheets and other workshop documentation.

[3] Ken Tyler in correspondence with Jane Kinsman, 16 October 2003.

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