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David Hockney’s neglected work

— April 2014

Associated media

David Hockney, Self-portrait (1954), Lithograph in Five Colors, 11.5x10.25ins Edition: 5 (approximately) © David Hockney

Sarah Lawson discovers Hockney's prints at Dulwich

Once again London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery has found a subject that other galleries have neglected: David Hockney’s etchings and lithographs. The earliest etchings date from 60 years ago when he was a student at the Bradford College of Art and was styling himself on Stanley Spencer. The poster for the exhibition features a self-portrait of the period showing Hockney with a Spencer-like dark pudding-basin haircut.

From his earliest work there are sly references to other artists and styles. Always an admirer of Picasso,   Hockney has used Cubism in some of his later lithographs to great effect. The homage to Picasso is explicit, but at the same time the work is uniquely Hockney’s. Somehow Hockney manages to be both traditional and innovative; both original and a great borrower.

Hockney has said that he learned to etch in 15 minutes. He went to the printmaking department at the college when he found that the material there were free, whereas the painters had to buy their own materials. He took to printmaking and for the rest of his life explored its possibilities, moving restlessly from one innovation to another.

As he has made numerous etchings and lithographs during his career, a strictly chronological order would result in a hotchpotch of media, so the curator of this exhibition, David Lloyd, decided to organize the work into three rooms of etchings and three rooms of lithographs, but within those categories the work is chronological.

Artists have always gained inspiration from visiting other parts of the world, and Hockney has used his travels to enormous advantage. The result of an early trip to New York was a witty series of 16 etchings based loosely on Hogarth’s ‘Rake’s Progress’. His long sojourn in Los Angeles was crucially important to his work and gave rise to his best-known studies of swimming pools and their inhabitants. A trip to Japan also resulted in new influences.

In the 1960s Hockney made no secret of his own sexual preference even when it was illegal under the repressive laws of the time. Although he produced some strikingly homoerotic pictures, he didn’t present them as part of a campaign for gay rights. Mid-decade, at about the time when homosexuality was being decriminalised (if not entirely ‘legalised’), Hockney decided to illustrate some poems by the gay Greek poet Constantine Cavafy (English version sadly now out of print). So serious was Hockney about his project that he commissioned a new translation of the poet’s work and travelled to Beirut to catch the louche Middle Eastern atmosphere. Whereas the men in Cavafy’s poems are somewhat furtive... Cassone subscribers click here to read on

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For other articles on David Hockney see:

'David Hockney's hi-tech high-art', December 2011
'David Hockney's biggest pictures'
, February 2012


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