Why David Hockney remains the master of urban portraits

Why David Hockney remains the master of urban portraits

By Antonia Filmer | 16 July, 2016
(L-R) Artist David Hockney & Matthew Robbins design.

Prolilific, influential, versatile, brilliant, master draftsman, these and hundreds of other congratulations have been heaped on 79-year-old Yorkshire artist David Hockney. Most of his painting life has been spent in Los Angeles except for a short spell in 2004 when he returned to his native rural landscape to experiment with the C21st artist’s materials of film and iPAD for his 2012 exhibition “A bigger Picture”. Recovering from a minor stroke Hockney returned to California and eventually the urban portrait genre that has played such a role in his career. Until October 2016 Hockney has a collection of friends sitting in the Royal Academy, Picadilly. This collective work of 82 portraits is a return to his craftsmanship in colour and portraiture, the intensity of the colour comes from acrylic paint. Each study is an essay of intimate psychological and emotional resonance with the sitter.

Hockney reaffirms the importance of portraiture in this age of the selfie and the celebrity, he says photography is for celebrities, he prefers to paint his friends, not one portrait is a commission, Hockney invited each sitter personally.

Hockney reaffirms the importance of portraiture in this age of the selfie and the celebrity, he says photography is for celebrities, he prefers to paint his friends, not one portrait is a commission, Hockney invited each sitter personally. The paintings are tightly hung with just a small margin between them, it is very intimate. The dimensions of the portraits are identical, the one chair is shared with each sitter. Hockney’s friends, fellow artists and family all sit so differently against the alternating backgrounds of gitaine or turquoise blue; the aspect of their heads, hand, knees and feet are all unique. The uniformity of the environment shows off their individual sartorial choices: Barry Humphries the comedian wears a trilby, Lord Jacob Rothschild is in a dark Saville Row suit and purplish tie, the only child is  eleven year old Rufus Hale in a grey waistcoat and long trousers, Dominique Deroche  Yves Saint Laurent ex-secretary wears an elaborate Chinese coat and Rita Pynoos the accomplished weaver and designer of unique acrylic furniture wears a voluptuous red silk skirt, his long-term friend and most frequent lady sitter Celia Birtwell sits slightly perched in the chair. Why Jean-Pierre Goncalves de Lima, his studio manager and project documenter, is the only sitter who has his head in his hands so that his face is not seen is a mystery . Most of the 82 sitters came to the private view, this kaleidoscope of people and Hockney’s virtuoso paint handling of their images has attracted so much attention that it is essential to book an entry time.

 

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