Hockney has created, revealing an intense and often dramatic look at the artist, his friendships, family, and loves.This collection of paintings, drawings, etchings, watercolors and photography is the first exhibition devoted solely to highlighting one of the most important facets of Hockney’s art: his portraiture.
Organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the National Portrait Gallery, London and in collaboration with LACMA and senior curator Stephanie Barron, David Hockney Portraits displays approximately 160 of Hockney’s most personal pieces. Many of these portraits have never before been seen together, including a collection of the artist’s early sketchbooks and preparatory photographs.
At the press preview launching the exhibit, the artist himself seemed quite pleased standing among his works within the museum. As we sat down to discuss the exhibit with him, he reacted to how appropriately the pieces were displayed. “The space makes a big difference in the way you perceive pictures. I’m claustrophobic, I don’t like small spaces...I’m always attracted to large spaces,” Hockney said. Accordingly, LACMA provided the large spatial environment that showcased these paintings so perfectly.
Hockney, known for his unparalleled ability to provide powerful- yet-seemingly-casual observations of the people in his life, has often chronicled close acquaintances in engaging situations, revealing at times concealed emotions and obscured experiences. Commenting on the vast array of portraits in his portfolio, Hockney explained,“Portraiture has to look like the person— I am keener to do people I know.”
Hockney’s highly personal and realistic style has created images that resound on canvas. Self Portrait with Blue Guitar (1977) and Beverly Hills Housewife (1966) exude a certain loneliness or melancholy even in the wryness that they evoke. Hockney is also known for his ability to expose the dynamics of the relationship between two people and exhibits this trait in major canvases such as Mr. and Mrs. Clark and Percy (1970–71), and My Parents (1977). “Two people are more interesting than one,” he commented. “You don’t have to do portraits to know that human beings have so much in common.”
To the delight of the writers present, many of the models featured in the portraits were at the preview. It was a unique experience to interview these influential people in Hockney’s life, as they stood below their portraits sharing their feelings and the circumstances that led them to pose for the artist. Models Sidney Felson and Joni Moisant Weyl, featured in Sid and Joni Seated at Table (2005), excitedly observed their portrait on display. “David knows us real well. He stares, and stares and stares...looking intensely at you,” Joni Weyl simply and honestly remarked.
Hockney’s presence at the preview of the exhibition was especially meaningful to LACMA, given the artist’s well-known affinity for Southern California. His “studio visitor” series, small- scale Malibu portraits of 1989, digital photo collages of 1990–91 and Camera Lucida drawings of 1999 all capture visitors to the Hockney studio or home.These collages had an insightful effect on Hockney’s view of photography.“They led me to see what was and how photography is changing,” recalled the artist.
At the preview, Hockney shared with the press anecdotes and stories from his past regarding his paintings and photography.When asked how he felt as he looks at his pieces years after he painted them, Hockney replied,“All artists must take stock of what they have done. Not everyone has a chance to do this...to look at them all [paintings] and to know what to do next.”
As he spoke in his inimitably expressive manner, Hockney was as exuberant in unfolding the chronicles of his life as he has been in creating his art. Shortly before the conference ended, this writer had the chance to ask just what message he believes his painting is sharing with Los Angeles and the rest of the world.
“Love life!” he exuberantly replied. Thank you, Mr. Hockney, for sharing.
Image: David Hockney, Mr. and Mrs. Clark and Percy, 1970–71.Acrylic on canvas.Tate. Presented by Friends of the Tate Gallery 1971. © David Hockney.All rights reserved.