In town for the recent opening of his new show “David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition” at the de Young Museum, the 76-year-old is unassuming in a yellow dress shirt, V-neck sweater, cardigan, gray trousers and trademark golf cap.
At a news conference last week, when it was pointed out that he often has been listed in fashion magazines as one of the world’s most dapper men, he hunched over a table and laughed, rumpling his soft white hair like a shy schoolboy.
Arguably the most well-loved British artist from the pop art era, Hockney remains unpretentious, warm and curious. Much of his most recent work embraces iPad and advanced film technology — something of a rarity in lauded, aging artists.
Organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in collaboration with the artist, the 18,000-square-foot show, on view through January, is the de Young’s largest exhibition to date.
Hockney’s ebullience is the most consistent element in “A Bigger Exhibition.” His signature palette — heavy on jewel-toned greens, cobalt blues, rich purples, reds and oranges — is intact, and exudes optimism. Often compared to Matisse, Hockney remains a standout colorist of his generation.
Among the 398 works in the exhibit — 78 made this year, some just days before the opening — are vibrant oil paintings, charcoal drawings, works made on iPads (displays show how he created the high-tech images, line by line), watercolors, sketchbooks and films.
Perhaps the most stunning works are his Yorkshire landscapes, painted after Hockney returned to his native England in 2005 after spending more than two decades in Los Angeles.
Comprising a large portion of a massive retrospective at London’s Royal Academy in 2012, the large, vibrant, tropical, often multipaneled oil paintings are heavy with foliage and completely immersive.
The vast, luscious “Woldgate Woods” paintings, one for each season, are accompanied by films that document the same site during all four seasons.
Similar to how he created his Polaroid collages in the early 1980s, Hockney shot the videos from multiple viewpoints using three cameras mounted to a car. The films are played in a composite video displayed across nine flat-screens per season. The result is hypnotic: the viewer is drawn into a sinking horizon at the end of a seemingly infinite and dense arboretum.
Hockney’s use of multiple cameras comes out of his distrust of the entire concept of perspective.
“I’ve always known there’s something wrong with perspective,” Hockney said, lucid after his stroke last year. “Most painters know that.”
Hockney’s charcoal series “The Arrival of Spring in 2013” — shown here for the first time — is another highlight. The 25 drawings depict the transformation of winter into spring so uncannily that one doesn’t notice that the images are in black and white.
“Pictures make us see things,” Hockney said. “People don’t look very hard at the world. Well I do, and I do something with it.”
IF YOU GO
David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition
Where: de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, S.F.
When: 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays, 9:30 a.m. to 8:45 p.m. Fridays (evenings through Nov. 29); exhibit closes Jan. 20
Contact: (415) 750-3636, www.famsf.org