David Hockney Is the Best Kind of Style Icon


ast year, a signed David Hockney print of a painting of flowers in a vase hung in the living room of my Brooklyn apartment. It was found in the storage unit of my roommate’s relative, who loaned it to her for the year as temporary apartment decor before it was sent to a wall meant for art more prestigious than our polaroids from college parties.

Until last week, the extent of my relationship with Hockney was my morning ritual of eating Honey Nut Cheerios on my couch while staring at the loopy signature on the flower print that I suspected had a value higher than my cumulative belongings. It was only after I found myself basking in free air conditioning at a Metrograph screening of A Bigger Splash that the man behind the signature became my new summer style icon.

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Those more versed in David Hockney’s legacy already know him as a British artist whose revolutionary paintings deeply influenced the pop art movement. They’re also likely to know that the 4K restoration of the 1974 Hockney Biopic A Bigger Splash is being re-released in New York today, timed to pride month, and will be followed by a nationwide expansion. Hockney’s work has inspired the likes of Michael Kors, Edith Young, Luke Edward Hall, and Frank Ocean. You may also recognize him as the man with the charming tie and pocket-square combo tenderly holding hands with Joni Mitchell.

Jack Hazan’s A Bigger Splash documents Hockney’s mid-30s as he regains his footing as an artist following a breakup, leaning on his tight-knit group of muses as he does. Hockney’s rut is finally defeated when he decides to return to his piece “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), which he’d previously scrapped, but decides to take up again after discovering inspiration in his backyard pool. Hockney becomes hypnotized by the ritual of watching his entourage dive into the water again and again, determined to capture the simple beauty of a body distorted by the water’s surface.

It took him two weeks to re-paint the piece, but he holds firm that the previous months were integral to the painting’s creation. The final version of ‘Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)’ sold for $90.3 million in 2018, setting the record for a sale by a living artist. (It was a record held until last month when Jeff Koons’ ‘Rabbit’ sold for $91.1 million.)

Approximately seven minutes into the film, I fell back in love with my wardrobe full of secondhand clothing. A Bigger Splash serves up such an abundance of inspiration that I began scrolling through mental images of my closet, concocting all the outfits I never realized I owned. It was like finding a dinner recipe and realizing I already had all the ingredients to make it in my own kitchen.

Why had I never mismatched my socks or realized that vertical stripes look phenomenal when paired with more vertical stripes? Where the heck did I put those fishnet stockings I wore with my eleventh grade Lady Gaga Halloween costume? Why have I been fixated on finding the perfect slip to go under my sheer dresses when I could just add a poppy pair of colored tights instead? Should I strive to own glasses of the Edna Mode variety?

Hockney’s style is as oxymoronically soothing as his on-screen declaration that “nostalgia is a bit…decadent.” A Bigger Splash captures the evidence that his clothes are a pinpoint match on his personality, which then matches the interior design, which then bleeds into the very feeling of the cities he visits. His aesthetic is contagious, like paint from a brush spreading through water.

Each time I finish watching a Wes Anderson film, I always get lured back into outfits composed of peter-pan collars and mary-janes, only to rediscover that outfits alone do not have the power to transform the entire world into a consistent colorful symmetry. Hockney waved his paint-brush like a wand and proved me wrong.

A Bigger Splash is a 35mm candy shop: visually electric and emotionally melancholy. The whimsical plot flips through moments from different cities and time periods and pastel scenes featuring pink tablecloths with teaspoons and lemon slices, not always making clear how they all relate. As a whole, it is a charmingly ineffective history lesson. The film, like Hockney’s work, is a genre of its own. It brings us a nose-length away from Hockney—as himself? Or just a variation of himself? It’s beautifully unclear—as he watches his friends (also played by themselves) see their reflections through his paintings.

In the age of romanticized consistency through clean Instagram grids, I feel like a pinwheel rotation of all the aesthetics I’ve absorbed from films. Approximating the outfits I see on screen always expands my personal style, but A Bigger Splash floated me with more than outfit ideas—it turned my whole day into a cinematic masterpiece. As I got up from my red velvet seat in the Metrograph theater, without meaning to, I imagined a dolly shot tracking the movements of my lime-green toile maxi dress as I moved past the tidy concession stand lined with Topochico waters and yogurt-covered pretzels.

Hockney’s aesthetic had dripped off the screen and flooded the lobby. That current floated me into the New York streets, which instantly looked more pastel than they did gray. That night, I drifted home and drowned in all the possibilities my closet had held all along. Will I mis-match my socks for the rest of my days? Likely not. But for now, I’m more than willing to swim in a pool of David Hockey’s vision.

Photos provided by Henry Quinson and Metrograph

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