The man, it has to be said, knows his way around a pink pair of buttocks. But this show, examining Hockney’s early career, shows a man grappling with far more than athletic derrières.
It’s particularly poignant to see Hockney’s world view open up – from the angsty, codified hints and whispers of his art school days (where numbers and symbols slyly hint at hopes and desires) to the technicolour, bare-bottomed world of the US west coast.
San Francisco, Hockney once said, was like a ‘sunny, naked Europe’ – and the sun, the flesh, and that European thing that happens when the two meet – shows this rake’s progress from subtle hints to a widescreen celebration of his sexualtiy.
That said, even Hockney’s scratchily urgent early sixties work, placed against the prevailing climate (pre Stonewall and the decriminalisation of homosexuality), shows a strident, brave and determined champion of gay rights: presciently mirroring a nation’s awkward fumbling towards equality.
Hockney’s intimate series of etchings loosely based on the desire-drenched poems of Constantine Petrou Cavafy (1863-1933), show that, away from the vivid blues and sun-kissed pinks, Hockney was a master draftsman too: with a few inky lines he captures all the illicit thrill of secret trysts between young men, in hotel rooms and ‘houses of sin’. They are tender and beautiful.
But it’s the showstoppers that lodge themselves in the consciousness so vividly: the Walker-owned John Moores winner, Peter Getting Out of Nick’s Pool is as louche, and as languorous as ever: the listlessness of a steamy San Francisco summer, ripe with the promise of a little afternoon delight later.
‘Man in Shower in Beverly Hills’, 1964 © David Hockney. Photo © Tate, London 2013