26 December 2014

Randall Wright’s ‘Hockney’

Randall Wright’s documentary might well have been called ‘Hockney’s People’. It is an account of the artist which is only approximately sequential and in which we see as much, if not more, footage of people who know Hockney well talking about him, as of the man himself. But the director was probably fairly sure that most of his audience would already possess the biographical outline of his subject – born in Bradford in 1937, the RCA in London in the early 1960s, Los Angeles in the 1970s and 80s, spending time back in East Yorkshire since the mid-1990s, and latterly on the West Coast again. Moreover, when Hockney is on screen, the evolution of his carefully cultivated appearance, particularly when he was younger – the hair, the glasses, gives a good indication of the period in question.

Hockney’s best-known later work (much viewed at the Royal Academy and elsewhere in 2012/13) has been of landscapes, but throughout his career he has produced portraiture and part of the value of Wright’s film, which is more about people than places, is to learn something about his subjects. Hockney’s UK admirers know all about the sitters (Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell) in the Tate favourite, Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (1970-71, below): 

but less perhaps of Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, 1968:

Bachardy is one of the documentary’s interviewees, as is Marcia Weisman, also probably not so well-known in the UK, who locates herself in Beverley Hills Housewife (1966, below top) but is just as familiar from American Collectors (Fred and Marcia Weisman), (1968, below lower):

One of Hockney’s closest friends was the late Henry Geldzahler (art historian and critic, referred to in the film only as Henry, I think), recognisable from Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott (1969, below top). Again, both subjects of George Lawson and Wayne Sleep, (1972-75, below lower) feature in the film.

Of course, as might be expected, most of Hockney’s people, excepting his mother and sister and Celia Birtwell and Marcia Weisman, are male, an aspect of his life apparent from his twenties, for example in We Two Boys Together Clinging (1961, below left) and Oh, for a gentle lover (1960, below, right):

The film provides an unrushed chance to see these and other works from five decades of Hockney’s drawings, paintings and experiments with photography, faxes, iPads and so on. Not all are equally familiar, for example the stage sets for the Metropolitan Opera House in the 1980s (Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tirésias, The Breasts of Tirésias, 1983 below:

and the Blue Guitar prints from 1976/77 - The Poet, from The Blue Guitar (1976-77 below). For an excellent description of Hockney’s prints (as shown at Dulwich Picture Gallery in 2014) see this post by one Gerry, on his blog which I happily defer to - you might prefer his review of Hockney, as well.

Anyone who admires Hockney’s “ways of looking” and ways of recording what he sees – a vision which most of us don’t realise without his assistance - will like this film. It is currently available in the UK on Curzon Home Cinema and will be shown by the BBC in 2015. The best way to see it might well be in HD on a quality home system from Blu-ray (if available), to be stopped, started and repeated as the viewer wants.

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