Rethinking David Hockney’s “reverse perspective”: The acceptance of Japanese art in the 1970s and 1980s


Contemporary artist David Hockney’s (b. 1937) trips to Japan were connected to the works he created in the 1970s and 1980s. However, prior studies have not analysed these works in detail. This report re-examines Hockney’s interest in Japan by collating the Japanese art that he encountered during his travels.
Some scholars identify the works that Hockney created after first visiting Japan in 1971 as the impetus for his moving beyond naturalistic composition based on one-point perspective. This report additionally compares his works with Japanese paintings he may have encountered and indicates their similarity in terms of techniques depicting time.
In the 1980s, Hockney created collages of photographs, which require time to shift the viewer’s gaze across multiple points of focus. He called this visual sense ‘reverse perspective’. Although preceding studies have referenced ‘reverse perspective’ theory, they have lumped together Chinese and Japanese art. Hockney has stated that his visit to Kyoto’s Ryoan-ji Temple inspired his ‘reverse perspective’ theory, the background of which requires further examination. Hockney explained this theory by referring to Chinese scrolls; however, when his works from that period are analysed in detail, they reveal that he might also have gained knowledge from his exposure to Japanese scrolls.

Keywords: David Hockney, reverse perspective, Japanese art, Chinese art, Ryoan-ji Temple