One of my most favourite and certainly most memorable exhibitions in recent years, or in fact in all the years was ‘A Bigger Picture’ by David Hockney at The Royal Academy in 2012. I remember it not only because it was my birthday the day I visited, but because I was simply blown away by the scale, the colours and the beauty of his Yorkshire Landscapes. So, I approached his latest exhibition at The Royal Academy with much anticipation and excitement. One thing Hockney paintings guarantee is colour. So a dreary, wet Saturday afternoon was the perfect time to go and have my senses enlivened by his vivid palette.
82 Portraits and 1 Still Life is exactly what it says it is. In the summer of 2013 Hockney painted the first of what was to become a collection of over 90 portraits, 82 of which feature in this exhibition. Each portrait is the same dimension and shows the subject sitting on the same chair in his same Los Angeles studio. Each subject is personally known to Hockney and is either a friend, close associate or family member. In our social media and celebrity obsessed world, this is refreshingly NOT a celebrity exhibition. Hockey says “I don’t do celebrities, photography does celebrities. My friends are my celebrities” The still life came about when a subject was unable to keep his appointment and Hockney eager to paint anyway decided to paint the bowl of fruit in his studio. Its an interesting diversion from all the portraits!
There was much to enjoy about this exhibition. Its order and uniformity and the clear progression as the pictures are exhibited in chronological order. Initially when entering the gallery I was a little unsure. Painting after painting of a different person in the same setting. However as I wandered around I began to enjoy picking out the detail, examining the expression on the sitters faces and even pondering over why they had chosen that particular outfit to be painted in. Apparently they could choose what they wanted to wear and felt comfortable in. I suspect the closer the relationship the more relaxed they appeared, but I could be wrong.
The curator of the exhibition features in the exhibition and she describes her experience of sitting for David Hockney like this “After an hour for a good lunch and some lively conversation, the sessions continued into the afternoon. During the morning and afternoon breaks, Hockney would sit in an armchair, studying its progress smoking a cigarette. He discussed various aspects of the painting during these breaks, but while he was painting there was complete silence”
I enjoyed the vibrancy of these paintings. I also enjoyed this window into the world of David Hockney where his friends and family are the people he loves to paint. Were those he painted all pleased with the finished result? I don’t know. Would I like to sit for David Hockney? Maybe, yes!
82 Portraits and 1 Still Life is on at The Royal Academy in London until 2nd October.
Images via The Royal Academy and BBC