Blog, Exhibitions

David Hockney : Drawing From Life

David Hockney “Self Portrait with Red Braces” 2003 Watercolor on paper 24 x 18 1/8″ © David Hockney Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt

I am a huge fan of David Hockney, considered to be one of the greatest artists working today. There have been a great many exhibitions of his work over his long career and this is the first at the National Portrait gallery for over twenty years.

David Hockney “Mother, Bradford. 19 Feb 1978″ 1979 Sepia ink on paper 14 x 11” © David Hockney Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt Collection The David Hockney Foundation

‘Drawing from Life’ focuses on Hockney as a draughtsman from the 1950’s and his intimate and revealing depictions of the five sitters closest to him. These are himself, his mother Laura, his curator and business manager, Gregory Evans, and master printer, Maurice Payne and close friend Celia Birtwell

Celia, Carennac, August 1971 coloured pencil on paper 17 x 14″ © David Hockney PhotoCredit : Richard Schmidt, Collection: David Hockney Foundation

The exhibition serves as a poignant reminder of the effects on the human form with the passing of time. The drawings done over the past six decades also illuminate Hockney’s distinctive way of observing the people around him, creating an intimate visual diary of the artist’s life, while highlighting his reference to both tradition and the changing landscape of technology.


He uses both traditional and non-traditional drawing equipment including coloured pencils, pen, the polaroid camera, he experiments with many different techniques and styles.

David Hockney “Gregory. Palatine, Roma. Dec. 1974″ Ink on paper 17 x 14” © David Hockney Photo Credit: Robert Wedemeyer

The influence of Ingres can be seen in Hockney’s neo-Classical style line drawings of the 1970’s and the ‘camera lucida’ drawings of the late 1990’s. In the 1980’s Hockney went through a period of cubist depictions that paid homage to Picasso. In more recent years, particularly with his use of the iphone and the ipad, Hockney’s work has returned to the distinctive mark making of Rembrandt and Van Gough.

David Hockney “Self Portrait” March 14, 2012 iPad drawing printed on paper Exhibition Proof 1 37 x 28″ © David Hockney Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt

         Despite the shifts in Hockney’s practice and themes, his approach to drawing has remained largely unchanged: it is the foundation of his art, as he was taught at Bradford School of Art.

David Hockney “Maurice 1998″ Etching A.P. II/X 44 x 30 1/2” © David Hockney Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt Collection The David Hockney Foundation

 Drawing was still compulsory when Hockney enrolled at the Royal College of Art in 1959 and its staff took note of his natural aptitude  for this academic discipline.

         One gallery space is given over to the new portraits of Hockney’s close friends. Inspired by the NPG exhibition Hockney invited his friends to sit for him once more in a new series of drawings- ten of which are on display in the exhibition. Drawn in Los Angeles and Normandy in 2019, the three-quarter length portraits are fond evocations of time spent together and represent the familiar faces and different expressions of his old friends, informed by all the sittings they have done previously. In the works Hockney uses the walnut-brown coloured ink favoured by Rembrandt, achieving an uninterrupted continuous line.

David Hockney “The Student: Homage to Picasso” 1973 Etching, soft ground etching, lift ground etching A.P. 1/15 29 3/4″ x 22 1/4″ © David Hockney Collection The David Hockney Foundation

Quote by Sarah Howgate Curator of David Hockney: Drawing From Life

“ Drawing not only represents David Hockney’s distinctive way of observing the world but it is a record of the encounters of those close to him. He has returned to this intimate circle over and over again and, because their faces are so familiar to him, achieving a likeness does not distract from the search for a more nuanced and psychological portrait that also records the passage of time.

Gregory 1978, coloured pencil on paper 17x 14″ © David Hockney Photo Credit: Richard Schnidt, Collection The David Hockney Foundation

         Over the past six decades he has never stood still, or rested on a particular approach, medium or technique and this is a great strength. Inquisitive, playful and thought provoking he has generously shared his ideas with his audience. Although his drawing reflects his admiration for both the Old Masters and ‘modern Masters’ from Rembrandt to Picasso, Hockney undoubtedly has his own unique vision of the world around him and the people who are dear to him.”

David Hockney: Drawing from Life

27 February -28 June 2020 at the National Portrait Gallery

Tickets without donation from £17-£20

Tickets with donation from £19-£22

Free for Members and Patrons

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