Hockney - Dulwich Picture Gallery
The Dulwich Picture Gallery is holding the first show dedicated solely to Hockney’s prints and it covers his life time’s work of sixty years. Ranging from his early works and self portraits to his later gay love scenes and some of his famous ‘Swimming pool” pieces the show aptly demonstrates how versatile, playful and enormously talented Hockney is.
The beginning of the show concentrates on his black and white prints of “A Rake’s Progress” - some thirty different pieces that fizz with energy and humour. Hockney’s habit of using actual words in his prints to highlight an idea or thought can be seen. There is also the compete set of his series of erotic images of gay love, illustrating Cavafy’s poems. Cavafy, we learn, is an Egyptian poet who was born and raised in Alexandria and who wrote about the city’s homosexual subculture in the 1910’s and 1920’s - a movement that Hockney himself was a firm advocate of. As you move through the rooms it is as if colour is gradually added and we can admire some of Hockney’s colour prints and still lifes. Hockney very much admired Van Gogh and this influenced him in his drawing of the “Van Gogh Chair” with its vibrant orange colour in the foreground. It is as if the chair is posing for a portrait in the middle of the picture and Hockney is playfully drawing it for us.
One of the recurring images that Hockney likes to draw is his by now famous two sausage dogs! His 1995 print, entitled “Horizontal Dog” is a delightful and true to life drawing of his two favourite pets. Hockney himself said, “These two dear little creatures are intelligent, loving, comical and often bored. They watch me work. I notice the warm shapes they make together, their sadness, their delights. And being Hollywood dogs they somehow seem to know that a picture is being made” It is delightful how he always draws them together, inseparable and it opens up an insight into Hockney’s life and day to day existence. The red and blue of the print combine together to create a lively, intimate and warm picture. His self portrait, finished in 1954 is based on the antipathy of oil and water and is modelled on the artist Stanley Spence. It is a little formal, perhaps less relaxed; his arms folded and a little edgy. Hockney’s love of Los Angeles and the charmed, outdoors, carefree life one can have out there is well known. His “Swimming Pool” series capture the light, warmth and freedom of California that he is trying to convey. His three series set called “Afternoon Swimming”, created in 1980, aptly depict the shape, movement and colour of the swimming pool water as someone dives in. Hockney is constantly challenging himself to depict and graphically describe water in its continuously moving form. I would gladly take one of these prints home with me!
In the last wing of the exhibition is his “Moving focus” series which comprise of twenty nine interiors, portraits, landscapes and still lives of the views of Hotel Acatlan in Mexico. In these vibrant, colourful and playful prints we see Hockney collaborating with the artist Ken Tyler and his experimenting with Cubism and different shifting perspectives. There are depictions of the hotel’s red central, circular courtyard, basking in the brilliant sun, and how this changes with each different view point. In his print of two chairs he uses graphic language to place them in their surrounding. His use of flexiglass blurs the distinction between the image and the viewer. The chairs seem so life like to me that I can almost imagine them getting up and walking out of the frame. Cubism for Hockney was one of the most profound discoveries of the art world.
This collection of prints is brilliant and not to be missed. Hockney is truly one of the most prolific and talented artists in the art world today.
Larissa Woolf, VisitMuseums.com Arts Editor