Will Self on David Hockney as colourist

Some time ago Will Self, reviewing a Hockney exhibition in London, spoke of how he (Hockney) was a poor colourist. For a moment I was taken aback – this was something I hadn’t considered before.

With the new exhibition in place in London, I wonder what anyone thinks of this comment by Self. Personally, having revisited Hockney’s work with this point in mind, I’m inclined to see Self’s comment as a misunderstanding on his part. I have always seen Hockney as a child of the 60s artistically, and the colour sets he uses seem to me, on reflection, to be a ‘pop art’ pallette. The trend in the 60s towards vivid, clean and commercial colour schemes resulted in much that went on, personified by the work of Andy Warhol, but also in Britain by Allen Jones and Peter Blake.

Hockney’s colour sets have a distinction that is all his own – I can tell a Hockney at 200 paces just by the colours alone. And I see his commitment to this palette for much of his life as a commitment to the possibilities of paint, of life seen through the eye of a modernist artist.

And despite the variety of material he has adopted as subject matter, the artistic commitment has been to a non-tragic, non-representational set of colours – no gloom in the work and no realism either. Some jarring colour relationships seem to part of the aesthetic, and perhaps part of how we see colour relationships now too. Gradations of colour and tone are also simplified, again perhaps echoing that 60s background where impact was all.