Conceptual innovator David Hockney won fame as an artist at age 26, then achieved new success in his 60s by plunging into art history. As such, he’s a prime example of a conceptual innovator achieving renewal through a change of focus.
For economist David Galenson, Hockney is “a wonderful example of a young genius conceptual artist,” who had his first show at age 27 and produced his most valued work at age 30.
“Throughout his career, Hockney has made a series of abrupt changes of style, often associated with a change of materials or medium.”
Hockney’s works that are most frequently included in retrospective exhibitions are his splashy paintings from his late 20s, just after he moved to LA. He made a shift in his 40s, into photo collages (below). The ones he did in his late 40s are No. 2 in frequency in retrospectives.
“David Hockney obviously challenged himself, first moving into photography and now into art history. Many people were pissed off, but he didn’t care,” Galenson says.
In his 60s, Hockney developed the radical idea that several masters of the 16th and 17th centuries, including Raphael and Giorgione, painted with the help of newly invented optical lenses and mirrors. Hockney’s theory led to a book that challenged the art history establishment.