David Hockney: an eyewear icon

The Yorkshireman who became one of Britain’s most accomplished artists.

David Hockney is renowned for his printmaking, photography and set design. However, his most prominent works are his canvas paintings which arguably defined the British 1960’s pop art movement.

It was during this new artistic era when he created his most impactful work via his choice of bold acrylic colour and expressionist tendencies. In more recent years, he became one of the most financially successful living artists after the lucrative auctioning of his “Portrait of an Artist” (Pool with Two Figures) breaking records in 2018.

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Artist David Hockney resting his head in his hand wearing round black spectacles

A quintessential portrayal of David Hockney's humour, attire and use of very thick round glasses frames. Hockney was fond of bold prints such as these polka dots which he often paired with suit jackets and waistcoats. | Image credit: Pinterest


Hockney was born in Bradford, West Yorkshire in July, 1937,

He attended school there are, and later, the Bradford college of art then the Royal College of Art in London between 1959 and 1962. Having graduated, he then moved to Los Angeles in 1964 where he was famously inspired by the communal and backyard pool culture of the warmer American climate.

Using the relatively new medium of acrylic paint, this was where he painted his legendary trio of pool-scenes; “Getting Out of Nick's Pool in 1966, “A Bigger Splash” in 1967 and “Portrait of an Artist” (Pool with Two Figures) in 1972.

As a young man from Yorkshire, you can only imagine what this comparatively tropical culture must have felt and looked like. Especially through the eyes of such a talented artist all the way from a much chillier northern England.


Man in a swimming pool with David Hockney kneeling at the edge taking his photograph

A young David Hockney (circa 1964) on his visit to Los Angeles where he was inspired the backyard, American pool culture. Here, he kneels beside his lover Peter Schlesinger taking his photograph in the bright LA sunshine. | Image credit: Wall Street Journal


Peter getting out of Nick's pool painting by David Hockney

"Pete getting out of Nick's pool" by David Hockney, completed in 1966. Notice the simplistic depiction of the swirl-pattern pool-bottom like that in the photograph prior. | Image credit: BuyPopArt.com


A bigger splash painting by David Hockney

"A bigger splash" by David Hockney, completed in June 1967, Los Angeles. This particular pool-scene is something of an artistic mystery as it remains unknown who had jumped into the water to create the splash. Hockney admits that the painting was from a photograph he himself hadn't captured. | Image credit: Living Paintings



Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) painting by David Hockney

"Portrait of an Artist” (Pool with Two Figures) by David Hockney, completed in May 1972. This piece took more than a year to complete as Hockney was dissatisfied with the perspective of the original and started afresh. Interestingly, this scene was inspired by two separate overlapping pool-photographs which happened to be laying on the artists studio floor. | Image credit: The Guardian


Through his choice of medium and subject matter, Hockney became associated with the British strain of the pop art movement which began to emerge in the late 1950’s.

This style was new, ironic and poked at the stuffiness of fine art by exemplifying banal scenes and everyday items. Across the Atlantic, no better example of American pop art was Hockney’s close friend and contemporary Andy Warhol.

They’re friendship was well known. As two gay men in a pre-liberated society, their works put them in limelight as two of the most controversial and interesting artists of the era.

Oh, and they both just so happened to have dyed blonde hair, unusual attire and an equally outstanding choice of eyeglasses.


David Hockney and Andrew Warhol talking to each other at a party

David Hockney (left) talking to legendary pop art artist Andy Warhol (right) at a party, circa 1976 | Image credit: The Mirror


In his personal life, Hockney was an eccentric man and dressed as strikingly as his bold acrylic paintings. Similar to his work, he donned vibrant attire, often sporting pastel colours and strong cubic patterns such as polka dots and thick stripes.

Famously, he maintained his signature dyed blonde hair which he reportedly modelled off a 1960’s TV advert by Clairol which implied that “everybody should go blonde.” So, he did…for many years throughout the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.


David Hockney standing in street wearing a formal coat and thick round glasses


David Hockney’s glasses

In addition to his bold attire, Hockney famously wore very large round glasses frames, similar to the likes of those worn by reknowned architect: Philip Johnson or Le Corbusier.

In keeping with the eyewear style of the time, his spectacles were usually full-rimmed and made from black, coloured or tortoise patterned acetate.

In his earlier-photographed eyewear, his frames were extremely stark due to the sheer thickness of the black acetate rim and were completely round in their lens-shape. Aesthetically, these bold spectacles strongly contrasted his bright blonde hair and became an integral part of his suave, sartorial look.


Close view of David Hockney wearing very thick round eyeglasses

Notice the large rhombus rivet heads on the front and sides of his thick acetate eyeglasses. These stylised heads conjoin two rivet pins as one 'double pronged' rivet which passes right through the acetate. | Image credit: The Guardian


Side view of thick round black spectacles with straight arms

On close inspection, Hockney’s early glasses frames used what are called staple rivets which had a characteristic rhombus-shaped head on them.

Under the diamond-shaped head are two pins which would’ve protruded through the acetate and hinges on the inner-side of his spectacles. On the exterior, these conjoined rivets gave a simpler aesthetic than two separate rivet-heads, thus making them a much more prominent external detail.

Another interesting feature are the filleted endpieces on the outer edges of his frame front. These will have been rounded-off using a file and then buffed smooth using a polishing wheel. I suspect that this was done to soften the look of the frame and make a smooth blend between the front and sides.

In the context of famous glasses wearers, very similar frames were worn by the famous architect Le Corbusier and his following peer, Philip Johnson. They too both opted for a very round spectacle style, practically identical to Hockney’s.


Thick black spectacles folded flat on white surface beside paint brushes


Black circle glasses beside paint brushes and canvas


David Hockney looking through a magnifying glass wearing thick black glasses

Thanks to the magnifying glass, you can see the rounded endpiece on outer edges of Hockneys glasses. This swept detail gives a softer, less severe look on what is a very bold frame style. | Image credit: National Portrait Gallery


Famous British artist David Hockey poking his ear with a paintbrush smirking

According to Hockney, he wanted to look more professional which is why he chose such a prominent style of glasses frame. Even in today's culture, wearing glasses is a sign of studiousness and are considered as fashionable accessory, rather than a reluctant medical device. | Image credit: CNN


Very close view of painter David Hockney staring thorugh his thick rimmed glasses

There's a charming simplicity to this style of glasses frame and it harmonised with Hockney's sartorial attire such as his textured ties, patterned shirts and colourful trousers. He was very bold with many of the things he wore and this dominating spectacle frame was no exception. | Image credit: The Boston Globe


In his latter years, Hockney’s choice of glasses has become noticeably less bold but thankfully, still retain their quirky flamboyancy.

Perhaps the heavier, thicker rimmed frames were getting a little cumbersome when working in his various studios. And with the advance of manufacturing methods, lighter weight materials like thin metal are much more forgiving for a man who’s now in his eighties.

In the images below, you can see his newfound preference for coloured metal or thin acetate frame with a round full rim.


David Hockney wearing bright yellow glasses and green suit

These yellow framed spectacles are made from form metal. They'll be much lighter weight than Hockney's bulky acetate frame prior, but retain that round shape he's always favoured | Image credit: CNN.com


David Hockney wearing his white flat cap and round black spectacles

Hockney has been warned by numerous doctors to stop smoking, but despite having a minor stroke and heart attack, he says he'll continue to do it as an act of defiance. In an interview with The Daily Mail he said: "I’ve had three health professionals in the earlier 40 or so decades. They all told me to give up smoking cigarettes and now they are all dead." | Image credit: The Daily Mail


Unquestionably, David Hockney is one of the most successful and prominent British artists of the 20th century. He still regularly paints and according to an interview with the Telegraph newspaper, he intends on moving to France where he’s allowed to smoke in cafés whilst he eats.

It’s good to see that all his fame, fortune and Los Angeles lifestyle hasn’t affected his northern sensibility. And it’s even better to hear that he has no intentions of stopping work any time soon.


“I’ve had sufficient money to do what I liked every day for the last 60 years. Even when I didn’t have much money, I’ve always managed. All I’m interested in is working, really. I’m going to go on working. Artists don’t retire.”



David Hockney lighting a cigarette in a three piece suit and round spectacles


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