Moving Focus, Hockney’s series of prints made with master printer Ken Tyler from 1984-1987, reflect the enduring influence of cubism on the artist, in particularly the work of Picasso, as well as an enthusiasm for Chinese scroll painting, with which Hockney had become fascinated. The title was taken from a chapter title in The Principles of Chinese Painting by George Rowley (1947), a book which had profoundly affected the artist’s view of perspective. Hockney realised that the process of viewing the scroll, in which the image is gradually revealed from right to left as it is unfurled, had the effect of allowing the spectator into the picture in a new way. 'In my own photo-collages…I’d been pushing the notion of the observer’s head swivelling about in a world which was moving in time, but I’d really only just begun to try and deal with how to portray movement of the observer’s whole body across space. And that’s precisely what the Chinese landscape artists had mastered’ (David Hockney, quoted in: C. Simon Sykes, Hockney: The Biography, vol. 2, Century, London, 2014, p. 206). This insight had a profound effect on his most famous group of prints in the Moving Focus series, his views of the Hotel Acatlán, to which this lot belongs.
Hockney had discovered the Hotel Romano Angeles in the small town of Acatlán, Hidalgo Province, by accident after his car had broken down on a trip from Mexico City to Oaxaca. Arranged around a courtyard with tropical plants and a well at its centre, it’s rustic charm and colour had immediately appealed to the artist. On his return to Los Angeles Hockney contacted Ken Tyler to enlist his help. Tyler proposed a new lithographic method which he had recently developed, the mylar technique. Using prepared sheets of the semi-transparent plastic the technique allowed Hockney to overlay colour drawings, simulating the colour separation necessary for colour lithography, and to visualise the final effect, something which had not hitherto been possible. This was liberating for a colourist like Hockney, and the Hotel Acatlán prints are some of the most vibrant in his graphic oeuvre.
With its long rectangular format and shifting perspective, Hotel Acatlán: First Day strongly reflects the dual influences of cubism and Chinese painting on Hockney and his conviction that the viewer belongs in the picture and not outside it. In a letter to his friend R.B. Kitaj, Hockney elaborates: 'It has so many different perspectives that you are forced to move your eye constantly…It is a totally impossible view from one point, yet there is a clarity and order about the picture. The effect of the space is extremely strong, yet it is not an illusion you want to walk in to, because you are already in the picture and walking around’ (David Hockney, A Walk Around the Hotel Courtyard, Acatlán, quoted in: Hockney: The Biography, p. 209).