13 September 2016

Hockney Portraits at the Royal Academy

Back in 2012, the Royal Academy in London put on a very popular show of David Hockney’s landscapes which, as it turned out, marked the end of his revisiting of his Yorkshire roots and his subsequent return to Los Angeles. Last year, Annely Juda Fine Art’s exhibition, David Hockney Painting and Photography, gave his UK admirers a chance to see some of his recent work including group and single portraits. Some of the latter have now re-appeared in David Hockney RA: 82 Portraits and 1 Still-life.

All these works (and another 10 or so not at the RA) were executed in acrylic on canvas taking two or three days each between July 2013 and March 2016. To be exact, there are 81 single portraits and one double, Augustus and Perry Barringer 16th, 17th June 2014, in this show. One subject, Bing McGilvray, appears three times, and J-P Gongalves de Lima and Jonathan Mills, twice each, so there were 79 different sitters, all being friends, family or acquaintances of the artist. As well as there being three portraits of members of Hockney’s own family, the same fairly distinctive surnames often appear more than once, for example Velasco, Schmidt, Pynoos, McHugh and Perlman. Hockney painted the still life, Fruit on a Bench 6th, 7th, 8th March 2014, when a sitter didn’t turn up.

The pictures are identical in size, with all the sitters in the same chair against a background divided blue green. Hockney didn’t specify what his sitters should wear, but nonetheless they are all rendered in vivid colours. A lot of the subjects were unknown to me and I suspect would also be to many of those visiting the show. Barry Humphries 26th, 27th, 28th March 2015, (above right) is, of course, an exception, recognisable from television but looking here more like Sir Les Patterson than Dame Edna Everage. All Hockney fans will know Celia Birtwell 31st August 1st 2nd September 2015, (above left).

Larry Gagosian 28th, 29th September 2013 (above left) and Benedikt Taschen 9th, 10th, 11th December 2013 (above right) are familiar as names but not as faces. Photographs of Jacob Rothschild 5th, 6th February 2014, (below right) have been in the media recently because of his views about Brexit.

On the whole, Hockney’s older sitters seem more interesting, or perhaps inevitably more characterful, than young ones and in general male sitters seem to engage Hockney more than females (disclosure: an old male speaks!). So, and just for example, Frank Gehry 24th,25th February 2016 (below left) made more of an impression on me than Chloe McHugh 9th, 10th, 11th November 2013 (below right).

I included some of Hockney’s earlier portraiture in a post about Randall Wright’s film in 2014. Tate Britain’s David Hockney next year is almost bound to include Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (1970-71) but I would very much like to see Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, 1968. That would certainly put the works at the RA in perspective, as might this long-forgotten book cover (left). The informative exhibition catalogue by Tim Barringer and Edith Devaney covers Hockney’s evolution as a portrait painter from the 1950s as well as this show and who the sitters are. The Italian printers have delivered at the high standard the authors deserve.  

David Hockney RA: 82 Portraits and 1 Still-life ends on 2 October 2016. The Tate Britain exhibition, David Hockney, will be from 9 February – 29 May 2017.

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