Hockney was born in Bradford and educated there and at the Royal College of Art in London where he met R. B. Kitaj. He became associated with pop art, but his early works also display expressionist elements, not dissimilar to certain works by Francis Bacon. Sometimes, as in We Two Boys Together Clinging (1961), named after a poem by Walt Whitman, these works make refernce to his homosexuality.
Later, a visit to California, where he settled, inspired Hockney to make a series of oil paintings of swimming pools in Los Angeles. These are executed in a more realistic style and use vibrant colours. He also made prints, portraits of friends, and stage designs for Glyndebourne, La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.
Hockney also worked with photography, arranging large numbers of small polaroid snaps of a single subject into a patchwork to make a composite image. Because these photos are taken from different perspectives and at slightly different times, the result is work which has an affinity with cubism. Some of these pieces are landscapes, others portraits.
In the 2001 television programme and book, Secret Knowledge, Hockney posited that the so-called Old Masters had used a series of lenses or mirrors to project an image of their models onto the canvas, which they had then traced around, enabling them to achieve very high levels of realism.
In 1974, Hockney was the subject of Jack Hazan's film, A Bigger Splash (named after one of Hockney's swimming pool paintings from 1967). Hockney was made a Companion of Honour in 1997 and is also a Royal Academician. Many of Hockney's works are now housed in an old mill in Saltaire, near his home town of Bradford.