The five best books on David Hockney—an expert’s guide


David Hockney and Martin Gayford in the artist’s studio in 2018
Photo: David Dawson

“Hockney is an artist who has repeatedly changed direction, media, and idioms.”

“I’m just reading Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past again,” says David Hockney in a new conversation book with the writer Martin Gayford. Hockney is not often one to think about; Its usual mode is to look forward to new seasons, new projects, and experimenting with the latest technology. But Marcel Proust’s great novel about memory and the essence of time is a fitting reference to the recently published spring that cannot be canceled: David Hockney in Normandy. While the book revolves around Hockney’s most recent works after moving to Normandy, it also covers a variety of topics, from Gustave Flaubert, the Bayeux Tapestry, and Claude Monet’s love of bacon and eggs for breakfast to one Chapter dedicated to “One of David’s Favorite Subjects”: the representation of water and reflections.

Hockney’s new works will be on display next month at the Royal Academy of Art in London for the David Hockney: The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020 exhibition (May 23 to September 26), while earlier paintings are currently on display alongside works by Vincent van Gogh at the Houston Art Museum in Hockney, Van Gogh: The Joy of Nature (through June 20).

Martin Gayford is a critic and longtime friend of Hockney’s who worked with the artist on several books. Below are five books he has selected for anyone who wants to know everything about the life and work of David Hockney.


David Hockney by David Hockney

David Hockney (1976) directed by David Hockney

“This early autobiography takes us halfway through David’s life and describes his childhood, early days as an art student, and his rapid rise to fame and discovery of New York and Los Angeles in the 1960s. It ends with an account of his stay in Paris in the mid-1970s. This is the existence of an artist from within, work after work. “


Secret knowledge of David Hockney

Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters (2001) by David Hockney

“In this book, Hockney shares his research on art history. He put forward the idea that optical tools might have been used much earlier and on a larger scale than is generally believed. He pointed out that art historians usually don’t experiment, and did just that. For example, he took pictures like Caravaggio might have, an artist who he thought had used lenses. I think it’s an extraordinary thing for a great living artist to examine art history in this way and come up with radical ideas. “


A story of the paintings by David Hockney and Martin Gayford

A History of Images: From the Cave to the Computer Screen (2016) by David Hockney and Martin Gayford

“David’s (and mine) point in A History of Pictures is that the problems of representing a three-dimensional world in two dimensions as a flat picture are the same from the walls of the Lascaux cave to the screen of your smartphone. Hence painting, photography and, to a considerable extent, film share a story. As David says, the camera existed long before 1839. It was then that chemical methods of fixing the image in a camera obscura were discovered, a tool that was widely used in the 18th century and earlier. “


David Hockney by Marco Livingstone

David Hockney (revised 2017 edition) by Marco Livingstone

“Marco Livingstone is a great authority in David’s work. He has written extensively on the subject, and this revised study carries the story up to the year of the artist’s 80th birthday. Hockney is an artist who has changed direction, media, and idioms over and over again. If you want to get an overview of the first six decades of its productive and diverse production, this is a very good place to start. “


Hockney: The Biography, Volumes 2 by Christopher Simon Sykes

Hockney: The Biography, Volumes 1 & 2 (2011 and 2014) by Christopher Simon Sykes

“This is a thoroughly documented biography. The author spoke extensively with the frequently quoted Hockney as well as with his friends and contemporaries. He also had access to family correspondence. The result is a legible depiction of an extraordinary life that transitions from Swinging London and Andy Warhol’s New York to Yorkshire in the early 21st century. “

• • Spring cannot be canceled: David Hockney in Normandy, Martin Gayford and David Hockney, Thames & Hudson, 280 pages, £ 25 (hb)

• Click here for more reading lists of the world’s greatest artists

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