David Hockney's Parade (French Evening at the Met) is one of the largest and most ambitious collage works ever executed by the artist. Compared to the majority of his works on paper, its scale is enormous and its wall power rivals many of the artist's paintings. The collage consists of over 35 elements, and with one exception, each one is hand-painted and drawn. Parade is a kind of Hockney works on paper "retrospective", including portraits, full-length figures, landscapes, interiors, exteriors, still-life elements and flags, all of which show the artist's deft touch and wide ranging abilities as a master draftsman.
Hockney's paintings have contained theatrical elements since his student days at the Royal College of Art in the early 1960s. Through his use of frieze-like compositions and architectural spaces, Hockney created a stage presentation in which his painted actors could perform. Furthermore, by framing his subjects with stage set elements including the proscenium and the curtain, Hockney reinforced the artificiality of projecting three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface.
In 1979 John Dexter, the British director who was then working at the Metropolitan Opera House, approached David Hockney about designing the stage and costumes for a triple bill scheduled for February 1981: Eric Satie's ballet Parade (which would serve as the title for the collective program), and two one-act operas: Poulenc's Les Mamelles de Tiresias and Maurice Ravel's L'Enfant et les sortileges. Not only did set design serve as an outlet for his passion for music and theatre, but it allowed Hockney to deepen his meditation on the medium of painting. "Thanks to Parade, an energetic dialogue began between his studio and the theater projects; one nourished the other... To distinguish the exuberantly executed paintings that were by-products of Parade from Hockney's production designs can be daunting... Many of his designs are fully-realized paintings" (M. Friedman, Hockney Paints the Stage, London, 1983, p. 45).
David Hockney's Parade is a colorful and intricate composition with a formalistic gravitas that serves as a common denominator within the artist's versatile body of work. At once whimsical and weighty - Parade addresses the tension between real and fictive space as well as that between naturalism and abstraction. Elegant lines, jubilant colors, and the placement of the figures invoke the musicality of the opera and the action across the stage. Hockney flattens the pictorial space, yet his flat and brilliant applications of color emphasize the ascendancy of the image over any overall abstraction. Drawing upon the practice of synthetic cubism, Hockney's figures and objects do not recede into space but project from the picture plane. The use of collage contributes to the tension between three and two-dimensional space and engages the viewer as a mediator between these two realms, much like an audience validates the suspension of disbelief in the theatre. It is here where Hockney distances himself from the Modernist rhetoric of autonomy of art, as advocated by critics Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried, with their espousal of abstraction as a way for painting to maintain its aesthetic autonomy. While Hockney directly addresses the flatness of the picture plane in a formalist gesture, his engagement with theatre contradicted the Modernist view of the audience as incidental. By translating this aggressively public arena of the arts into painting, Hockney implicates the social space of art as an integral part of its subject matter.