This last summer, I had a chance to see the "David Hockney Portraits" exhibit at the L.A. County Museum. It's been travelling around the U.S. and it just about knocked me out. Until then, I'd only associated him with swimming pools and naked lovers like the gorgeous and magical
I was actually hoping to see some of those, but instead was introduced to a whole other Hockney that is equally beautiful. He likes to paint the same friends and loved ones over and over and over, and rarely does commissions. Here's his favorite (and probably most patient and tireless) model:
There were several variations of this that spanned a few years - each new wrinkle lovingly recorded. To actually stand in front of this painting in person was to see how her eyes glow with this really intense blue honesty and to feel as if I am Hockney himself that she is focusing on with such presence, kindness and fondness.
Rendering her in paint wasn't dynamic enough for him though, and his work with polaroids show a kind of struggle to see everything animated in all the many-faceted angles that being present with someone entails.
Mother I, Yorkshire Moors, August 1985 #1
18 1/2 x 13 in (47 x 33 cm)
His portraits of pairs are wall-sized, and remarkable in that although they are double portraits, it's almost as if each subject is in their own separate painting, and Hockney has a distinct relationship to each.
It was interesting to see how his comfort and familiarity with his subjects made all the difference. He seemed to approach others slightly outside his inner circle with an interesting degree of alienation.
"George and Mary Christie"
He's very exacting about how he poses his subjects and what they wear. He's more interested in pursuing his own perception of them and their relationship than perhaps what they would prefer would be shown. These two, if I remember correctly, were sometime-lovers (the one on the right travelled extensively).
"Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott"
Here's another mysterious double portrait of one of his closest friends (and yet another favorite face to paint), Celia Birtwell, a fabric designer and his muse, with her husband and fashion designer Ossie Clark. He used her fabrics to great success in his designs in the sixties:
Hockney was picking up on something between them and deliberately posed them this way. Their marriage ended a year later.
"Mr and Mrs Ossie Clark and Percy"
She is still, many years later, such an important figure in his life, and it's easy to see how their friendship has influenced each other's art. For instance, it's fun to just compare the palate of some of his landscapes with her fabric designs
"Breath of Fresh Air"
Snails Space with Vari-Lites, "Painting as Performance", 1995-1996