The other mirrors of David Hockney

The origin of this posting requires some explanations, since it’s more connected to my ‘Russian part’ compare to many other stories here. Few days ago I started to receive messages from various people asking me to comment on a post in one Russian-language blog (more precisely, a journal of the large Livejournal community) or simply sharing with me this link.

It is, in fact, a old posting, by the Internet time; it was originally written in 2010, but apparently resurfaced again lately, and went to the top, thus many people have noticed it (which is not so bad itself). The posting itself is just a quick recap of the so-called Hockney-Falco Thesis; it’s richly illustrated, and even if you don’t know Russian, you would get the general plot by simply browsing through. The majority of the images are stills from the BBC documentary called Secret Knowledge, filmed in 2003, which is turned based on the eponymous book by Hockney publihsed in 2001.

Which means that in some absolute terms this is all yesteryear snow; all the debates and quarrels about H-F T have had calmed down already a while ago – at least here in the ‘West’ – but probably they all somehow bypassed Russia, where the book has not been translated as yet (and it is in this sense the postings like that do their important job, of better informing the public). I foresee that the Russian audience will react to these revelations in the same way that occurred here in the West some while ago – with a lot of noise and shouting, both pro- and contra, and a general feeling of the large storm – in a glass of water, though. Of course, even now there fans of both sides, who keep fighting till the last drop of blood; but the majority has somehow passed by already, with necessary adjustment of their ideas about art, and history (and the role of mirrors in it).

Myself, it so happened that I read about all these things long time ago, seven or eight years at least. In any case, long before I have started this mirror series (and in fact without any special connection to the mirrors – I recall that back then I was more interested in all these development as a photographer).

By the way, when I wrote one of my first ‘mirror postings’, about Arnolfini Couple, and I wrote (in my Russian blog):

(*) In the context of Hockney-Falco hypothesis all these speculations could be altogether wrong, and the mirror could be introduced here with very different purposes; but I’m not going to discuss all these things here-and-now, since my focus is entirely different.

I didn’t include this sentence to the English translation, though (wrongly, I now think). But my focus is still very different, so I would try avoiding the discussion now as well. Not because these issues are interesting (they are very interesting), but because I am (already) not interested to discuss they on a superficial level, as a kind of next conspiracy theory a la Dan Brown. And to discuss them on a more serious level requires a more delicate take: one fact here, two details there – in any case, far from the sensationalizing approach that still prevails in many conversations around these issues (also in the above mentioned posting).

But to stay completely silent wouldn’t be a good option, too (although I am already ‘not’ silent on the mater, even if I’d only written the above). But then it wouldn’t be a proper ‘mirror story’. So I decided to tell about ‘other mirrors’ of David Hockney – not the ones he is “re-discovering” or “exposing” in the works of other master, but in his own works (which, by the way, is extremely difficult to seek out now, because any attempt to search for something like “mirror” and “Hockney” in the Internet brings you tons of those “revelations”, but not his own art.

It is in this way this is a story about ‘other mirrors’ of David Hockney.

By now David Hockney is “gurus” of British art, a living classic, with many books of, and about his art-works; the article in Wikipedia is good enough an intro with all the basic facts presented.

It is also written in a relatively neutral style – which was not always the case with Hockney, who has been bordering with scandals of various sorts, both in his art, and around (including eventually his Thesis) during all his life. 

These ‘scandals’, or at least tensions, started already at the time of his studies: in the end of 1950-s he entered the RCA, the Royal College of Art, one of the most privileged art schools in Britain. Not only his art works didn’t quite fit the ideas about art shared by the RCA at that time (see also the central piece of the ‘triptych’ above), but he also didn’t want to comply with the school’s norms and regulations. For example, he refused to write the final essay, saying that the artist must be judged by his art only. He was denied the diploma therefore – which he then painted himself:

David Hockney – RCA Diploma (1962)

The diploma had been eventually issued to him, and the RCA made special exception for his case; obviously that such developments didn’t quite ‘pacify’ the already rebellious character of the future artist.

Hockney always belonged to the most edgy movements and schools of contemporary art – for example, in his earlier years it was pop-art (and therefore he eventually moved to California, where he lived, with some breaks, for nearly thirty years. These affinities were of more complex nature, of course – it is not to say that pop-art has become fashionable and *therefore* Hockney joined the movement. Rather, pop-art has emerged and became pop-ular exactly because it was attracting people like Hockney. Basically, it says more about his capacity to be on this ‘edge’ (thus sharpening it further), together with others.

He was familiar with and often close to (including intimately close, Hockney is openly gay) many great masters of the 20th century – Peter Blake, Francis Bacon – by the way, it is their portraits of Hockney form the left and right ‘wings’ of the ‘mirror triptych’ above – and many others; at some point they met with Andy Warhol, for example.

Over the years Hockney has produced large amount of art, paintings, and then photographs (and other media too); there is no way to describe it all here, even if short – the volume would require at least few books; for those who are interested in a quick overview of his works I’d recommend his own website, which shows many of his work chronologically (though in small size).

Interestingly, the very first ‘mirror work’  Hockney created already during his studies in the RCA – it is a small print (with an extremely original title for the ‘mirror work’ – Mirror, mirror, on the wall, 1961):

Later in the States Hockney starts creating very different art, large and bright acrylic paintings, with the interiors, his friends in these interiors, and the portraits of his friends without any interiors.

In fact, a few of his recurring themes bear all the potential for ‘mirrors’ to appear in them (or at least some ‘reflections’). For example, he created a large amount of “pools”, in many different forms:

David Hockney – Peter Getting out of Nicks Pool (1968)

or the ‘showers’ – also a lot, and also very different ones:

David Hockney – Man taking shower in Beverly Hills (1964)

One would think that at least some mirrors could have pop up there; alas, so far I have not found any traces of those.

Like many other pop-artists (and contemporary artists in general), Hockney experimented with different media; for example, similar to Warhol he tried to use polaroid cameras (and eventually ‘just cameras’ as well).

So the next ‘other mirrors’ of Hockney are in fact his own self-portraits in a mirror:

David Hockney – Self Portrait, London (1970)

And another one, made already in Germany:

This topic has seemingly caught him, he will be return to such self-photo-portraits later on, including in his “photo-series”. But before that he will also create few more ‘mirrors in art’.

Perhaps the most central ‘mirror work’ of Hockney, the one he will be remembered in the ‘Mirror in Art Hall of Fame’ is the Portrait of parents (or rather, the two of such portraits).

But before that he painted another small mirror (I found this drawing only when preparing this posting):

David Hockney – The Mirror (1973)

Perhaps, it is the very same mirror that he also depicted in this double Portrait of parents (1975):

As we see, this also a self-portrait, in the mirror. I find here allusion to the very portrait of Arnolfini couple, which Hockney will be exploring an exposing later on.

Two years later he will create another version of this portrait (less pop-art, and more humane, if you ask me):

David Hockney – My parents (1977)

I feel that Hockney liked the first version, with self-portrait, more – it is this version that is usually shown in various catalogues and books, and it is for that version he also created a kind of making-of:

David Hockney – Making of ‘My Parents’ (1975)

More precisely, it is not a ‘making-of’, but a re-enactment of some sort, staging the sitting against the already finished work. On the other hand, this composition and the settings became the basis for the second version (so, in some way it is the making-of, too).

If he would try ‘harder’, he could also make a double self-portrait, if reflected in the real mirror too; again, alas.

I also found another ‘mirror work’, a small drawing with a woman combing in a mirror:

David Hockney – Ann at a mirror combing (1979)

The work is also interesting because it seemingly depicts the very same mirror as in the portrait of the parents (which means that Hockney was basically painting one mirror for years, similar to Matisse).

It is also clear that Anne’s not combing herself here, instead, she is looking at us (and therefore we see her face.) By the way, the drawing with a mirror I’v shown above, is dedicated to Ann.

Since the late 1970s, Hockney began experimenting with a lot of techniques to assemble smaller photographs into large pieces, the one he called ‘joiners’, but that others dubbed ‘scrabbles’; here you can see many examples of his art-works of this genre.

One of the works of this sort is related to mirrors, too – and also to this earlier photographic self-portraits:

David Hockney  – Sunday Morning, Mayflower Hotel, New York (1983)

I also link it with the larger version because such works suggest a zoom-in viewing, with careful exploration of many details. Below is also its central, ‘mirror’ part of the work:

It’s funny that this is exactly the same technique that Hockney will then “find” in the old masters.

I guess next few years he was busy with the mirrors of others, since I don’t see any of his own for years.

But I found a couple of his most recent works where he again works with mirrors.

One of them is a portrait of his friend (and his own self-portrait, too):

David Hockney – Mike Izzo IV (2003)

The other, at about the same period, is his self-portrait in a mirror:

Though he is quite old already (he turned 76 recently), he is still very active, and continues to create more and new art works; this means that I’d rather restrain myself with an ‘icon’. It’s too early to call, as they say.

But it’s already clear that he wrote his page in the book of Mirrors in Art, even of by ‘quoting’ the mirrors of other masters:


8 thoughts on “The other mirrors of David Hockney

  1. I have a pictute ( foto) with naked man in blue bath room with Hockney taking the picture in the mirror (about 20 x 30 cm). Is it special? What is the value of it?

    • Hello, sorry this blog was abandoned for a few months, I didn’t see your comment. I am not aware of this picture you are describing… any chance to see this image? Could you take a picture and upload/send it to me? I would much appreciate! Thank you!

    • Majority of the posting here is, of course, about art works, but my interest is broader than that, and also includes changes in technology and scientific use of mirrors over time. For examples, the latest discovery of gravitational waves that was made with the use of mirrors. Or the golden mirror telescope that will be (hopefully) launched soon. I just don’t have time to write about all these things. Yours is also a very interesting example (and indeed resembles some of the earlier art works by Hockney).

      I do know Dutch a bit, and it helps to read German, but no, I wouldn’t claim the knowledge of German. Google Translate is getting better and better, though, so that kind of ‘reading’ is a possibility. Why?

      • I thought you might be interested in – a small “virtual exhibition” on Astronomy in Art. It’s work in progress, and I made this as a proof of concept, showing what a small, real exhibition (one room in the KHM) could look like. (Although I’m sure that it would not be possible to get all the masterpieces from London, Paris, Madrid, etc it has been fun to do it electronically.) – I might do an English version of the text, but perhaps you can get an idea as it is.

      • It’s really very interesting, thank you for sharing this collection! I knew some of the pieces in it, but it was interesting to reveal their ‘astronomical’ connections. I may look through my own archives of art works, in the hope that I can add a piece or two to your page 🙂 For instance, last year I started to work on a posting about medieval calendars (there are a lot of mirrors there, because of Venus) but didn’t finish it yet. ps: I vaguely remember seeing some of the objects (e.g., this double sundial) in Moscow, they had been brought there from Vienna for an exhibition, some ten years ago.

      • Thank you for your kind comments. Yes, calendars are an interesting subject in “my” context. The “computus”, necessary because of the Easter date, was one motive that forced the scholars – monks – to maintain at least some interest in mathematics and astronomy. I have added my email address to the “exhibition page”; that’s easier for sending something if you find it.

        I haven’t commented yet that this huge amount of work you have amassed over the years is truly remarkable. The “red thread” is a great idea! Since the KHM organizes small exhibitions (one big room) around some topic, I might try to forward your idea to them. See for the current example of what they are doing and how; this one is a little unusual since de Waal is more interested in curiosities.

      • Dear Wolfgang, thank you very much for your kind complements, I really appreciate!

        It would be absolutely fantastic if you would be able to somehow connect me with the people from the KHM. I do discuss, from time to time, and with different museums, ideas of topical exhibitions. Not one of them has happened as yet, but I already have a collection of proposals, from simple ‘ok, let’s show the visitors all your ‘mirror works’ at once”, to more conceptual “the mirror of future” kind of shows.

        KHM has one of most remarkable sets of the ‘mirror works’ in the world. I wrote about many of them separately, and even jotted a small posting about the KHK’s treasures (Mirrors in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna –, to only discover more works in the their possessions. With some minimal efforts from their site they can stage a stunning show, both art-wise and history of technology/history of ideas-wise.

        In case you will need it, you may use at address for correspondence. Once again, thank you for your concernment and help!

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