This is a very well organized and well illustrated book. Melia and Luckhardt have selected to focus on the paintings of David Hockney rather than his drawings, prints, photography, collage, and stage designs. They have organized the book under six themes in the artistic development of Hockney and covers the period of his academic training (1955) until the exceptional master work of his maturity, ending with works from 1993. The themes include portraiture and the vast colorful complex paintings of his maturity.
Hockney's integration of gay imagery and themes into his work was certainly brave and cutting edge in the 1950s and this theme of male homoeroticism continues to emerge throughout the forty years covered by this book. Hockney's approach to the homosexual image is grounded in careful craftsmanship. He is playful, subtle, and subdued at times and at others the homoerotic image is unmistakable and predominant. Hockney lives and paints in a time in which homosexuality has emerged from hiding. Yet Hockney does not paint the erotic male figure, the portrait from a nude magazine, but rather has a personal interpretation on the nude male figure. Hockney is inspired by Walt Whitman who recognized that his sexual orientation was an integral part of his being but that it could not be the primary and predominant theme of this work but must be integrated into an esthetic strategy of self revelation and strategic concealment. Thus the works are mysterious, subtle, witty, but never pornographic or over-stated.
Melia and Luckhardt have a short essay for each painting they have selected for his collection. They also include black and white images of drawings and preliminary paintings relevant to the larger color reproduction. The essays of Melia and Luckhardt are very accessible and are not full of incomprehensible tripe that is sometimes found in art book essays.
Hockney's early work bears some resemblance to the Pop Art movement with use of the written word on the canvas and commercial imagery. However, Hockney may use commercial imagery but it is certainly not the primary imagery of the painting, as is the case with many Pop artists. The male nude continues to be a central theme but there is usually some unspoken or unarticulated relationships between the men that is implied and the images have a narrative compositional purpose rather than an erotic purpose. This early period 1955 and 1963 is also marked by the development of a significant strategy in Hockney's work. This is his use of contrasting styles of painting in the same painting so that some images are flattened and some are more modeled and articulated. It is Hockney's skills as a painter that then allow these incongruous elements to work together.
Hockney's move to Southern California in 1963 also marks another significant change in his work. First, his use of color and pattern increases so that his work has a Matisse intensity. Second, he paints some works with perspective and vanishing points and others he tends to flatten and produce large areas of flat color. Third, his control of color, pattern, imagery lead to the first dynamic masterpieces of his career. These include the outstanding `A Lawn Being Sprinkled' and `A Bigger Splash', both of which are reproduced in this book. Also bearing mention are the disconcerting, oddly composed paintings inspired by the wealth and culture of Southern California. These include `California Art Collector' with its references to Italian Renaissance Annunciation paintings; `The Actor' with a conglomeration of oddly placed objects held together with a red, blue, and grey color strategy; and `Portrait Surrounded by Artistic Devices' which demonstrates that Hockney explores multiple compositional and painting techniques that he filters from other artists.
Between 1969 and 1977, Hockney produces some of the most outstanding paintings of his career. These are the figurative portrait paintings of his friends where he employs vanishing point perspective. He also calls upon all this graphic rendering skills to produce images of great beauty. His sense of color is masterful. This book includes `Henry Geldzhaler and Christopher Scott' with its beige and rose color scheme and its extremely formal composition. Also included are the two most beautiful of his paintings, `Mr. and Mrs. Clark and Percy' and Portrait of an Artist (Pool with two figures)'. There is not time or space for me to express how perfectly executed are these two paintings. They demonstrate complete control of his every talent. The painting of Celia and Ossie Clark is perfect, one of the finest paintings of the 20th Century.
Hockney was influenced by Van Gogh but later in his career he turns to Picasso. His study of cubism certainly informs the exceptional photography that Hockney began to pursue. These unique photographic collages are exceptional and this book has a color reproduction of the witty `Pearblossom Highway'. This book ends with1994 and there is a reproduction of the vast Picasso inspired canvas `A vist with Christopher and Don, Santa Monica Canyon, 1984'. Overall this collection of essays is helpful and the selection of reproductions is excellent.