spotlight

David Hockney’s rare and limited exhibition posters

Widely regarded as one of Britain’s foremost artists, David Hockney’s changing artistic styles have been extensively chronicled in major art galleries and museum exhibitions around the world. We examine some of his now rare and limited designs for Tate, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco Opera and more.

Mount Fuji and Flowers, 1972, David Hockney

Pool and Steps, 1971, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

When he moved from the UK to sunny California in the 1960s, Hockney created several now iconic swimming pool paintings. Awash with translucent blues, delicate pinks and greens, his pop art paintings depicted an idyllic world of leisure and bright light totally removed from the greyness of the Britain he had left behind. This 1964 re-strike poster featured in Denmark’s Louisiana Museum of Modern Art exhibition in 1971.

Mount Fuji and Flowers, 1972, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ever since his school days at Bradford School of Art in the 1950s, Hockney embraced autobiographical subjects inspired by friends and his travels. After his breakup with Peter Schlesinger in the summer of 1971, he travelled to Japan with his friend Mark Lancaster.

The young artist had expected to find Japan serene and unspoiled. When he arrived, he was said to be disappointed at the commercialism of the country. Working from a postcard of majestic Mount Fuji and a photograph he found in a Japanese flower arranging manual, he created Mount Fuji and Flowers.

The scene depicts a bamboo vase with delicate Narcissus flowers painted in a hard-edge style against a backdrop of delicate washes of blue. Critics have speculated that the pop art painter used the artwork to comment on ironic, classical scenes of beauty. 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, who acquired the original acrylic on canvas painting as part of their extraordinary collection in 1972, produced this wonderful offset lithographic poster.

Tate Gallery, 1980

For a Tate exhibition of his drawings and prints made between 1961-1979, Hockney helped design the advertisement poster. The figure at the centre is designer Ceclia Birtwell, Hockney’s muse between 1972 and 1973. He admired Birtwell because, in his view, ‘she had a beautiful face, a very rare face with lots of things in it which appeal to me.’ 

In addition to adding a pictorial frame of multicoloured swirly lines and shading to some of the lettering, Hockney also subtly stressed his egalitarian values by underlining the final word ‘free’ in red at the bottom of the design – referencing the free accessibility of his Tate show to the general public. 

This matte paper, offset lithographic poster was originally published by Petersburg Press in 1980.

San Francisco Opera, 1982

Hockney also delighted in designing for the stage. The theatre always interested him because it involved creating an illusion – a playful, artificial space in which real people could perform. 

In 1975, he received his most exciting theatrical commission to date. Tasked to create enormous set designs and costumes for Igor Stravinsky’s production of The Rake’s Progress (loosely based on the story from Hogarth’s original 1732–1734 engravings) at Glyndebourne Opera House, he made many immersive drawings.

This design depicts the infamous Bedlam scene. Hockney brought Hogarth’s original works into the twentieth-century with colourful crossing hatching and parallel lines which skilfully create the stage’s sense of depth.

When the production travelled to San Francisco in 1982, Hockney’s set design was reprinted, and this near mint offset lithograph poster, with its lively composition and cheerful colours, has since become a rare collectible. 

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