Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

David Hockney at the NPG

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 26th February, 2020

David Hockney NPGI have met few people whom I would classify as a genius, but David Hockney is certainly one of them. Moreover, he was immensely helpful and kind to me when I was researching my biography of Christopher Isherwood in the mid-1970s. They were close in California (location of “The Bigger Splash” and other iconic Hockney paintings). But I met up with the artist in Paris, where he was living with his lover, later business manager and curator Gregory Evans, who is one of several key friends and family members who feature prominently in a new National Portrait Gallery exhibition which opens to the public tomorrow, David Hockney: Drawing from Life. The Gallery has brought together from both public and private collections approximately 150 works covering more than half a century of output from this super-talented draughtsman. Early works, notably of himself and his mother, bear witness to his technical mastery before he started to branch out into experimental forms and perspectives. The parallel with Pablo Picasso is obvious. Picasso famously had a number of female lover-muses, but in Hockney’s case his main female model has been a friend, the textile and fashion designer Celia Birtwell, who is well represented in this exhibition. But I found most fascinating Hockney’s numerous self-portraits and their charting of a man aging through time, rarely flattering but self-perceptive. I have never especially appreciated his iPad work but this exhibition has helped me view that and his earlier use of Polaroids in a more positive light. Yet it is the line drawings that linger most in my mind, especially the recent walnut brown ink portraits reminiscent of Rembrandt in tone. The exhibition will run till 28 June and should not be missed.

[photo: David Parry/NPG]

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