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The Exhibition

November 10, 2017 – February 25, 2018

After his monumental landscape exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in 2012, David Hockney turned away from painting and from his Yorkshire home and went back to Los Angeles. Slowly he began to return to the quiet contemplation of portraiture, beginning with a depiction of his studio manager. Over the months that followed, he became absorbed by the genre and invited sitters from all areas of his life into his studio. His subjects—all friends, family, and acquaintances—include office staff, fellow artists, curators, and gallerists. Each work is the same size, showing his sitter in the same chair, against the same vivid blue background, and all were painted in the same time frame of three days. Yet Hockney’s virtuoso paint handling allows their differing personalities to leap off the canvas with warmth and immediacy. This exhibition presents David Hockney’s recent portraits created with a renewed vigor, offering an intimate snapshot of the LA art world and the people who have crossed the artist’s path over the last years.


Exhibition organized by the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in collaboration with the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.


Margaret Hockney, 14th, 15th, 16th August 2015

David Hockney has three brothers and one sister, and the siblings are all close. He has always had a particular bond with Margaret, a retired nurse, and has drawn her a number of times in recent years, when she and David spent much time together in Bridlington while he was working on his Yorkshire landscape works. She travelled to Los Angeles last year with a close friend, Pauline Ling, also the subject of a portrait.


“Margaret is clearly delighted to be in her brother’s presence, to be the focus of his attention for three whole days as he’s painting her, and she’s, you know, you can really see that absolute pleasure of being with him. And she’s looking back at him just as much as he’s looking at her”. Edith Devaney

John Baldessari, 13th, 16th December 2013

Born and raised in California, the conceptual artist John Baldessari has long been one of the West Coast’s most celebrated contemporary artists. A few years older than Hockney, he has been a friend for many decades.


“He has got enormously long rangy legs, those big hands, just very, very well painted here, you really do get a sense of John’s extraordinary height and presence, you know, he’s got that real presence”. Edith Devaney

Celia Birtwell, 31st August, 1st, 2nd September 2015

Since they first met in 1960s, the textile designer Celia Birtwell has remined one of Hockney’s closest friends. Birtwell and her previous husband, the fashion designer Ossie Clark, were the subject of the artist’s famous double portrait Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (1970-71; Tate). Since then Birtwell has continued to be his most regular female model. When she visited Hockney in the summer of 2015, she was accompanied by her husband, Andy Palmer, and her granddaughter, Isabelle Clark, both of whose portraits can also be seen here.


Rufus Hale, 23rd, 24th, 25th November 2015

The British artist Tacita Dean spent time in Los Angeles in 2015, researching at the Getty Institute. She visited Hockney, later filming him smoking in a contemplative state for her work Portraits (2016). When visiting she was accompanied by her eleven-year-old son Rufus. Reminded of himself at the same age, Hockney felt compelled to paint Rufus, who proved to be a very good sitter, becoming very engaged in the process.


“It was completely spontaneous so I was just wearing what I wear every day, which kind of, unusually enough, is a suit and tie. I went there having no idea that I’d be painted by him so I didn’t wear anything special. I’m wearing a sort of tweedish waistcoat, red tie, sort of dark blue trousers, white shirt and dress shoes”.  Rufus Hale

Edith Devaney, 11th, 12th, 13th February 2016

“I was painted twice, first in September 2015 and then again in February 2016; the latter portrait is in the exhibition. 

The only instruction I’d had was to tie my hair back; half way throught painting the first portrait, Hockney had determined that this would make a better image. Many female sitters had dressed up for their portraits, so as a contrast I decided to wear more casual clothes. The first and perphaps most intense part of the process was the charcoal drawing that Hockney sketched directly onto the primed canvas. He described this outlines of head, body and chair as ‘fixing the pose’, saying that he paints what he sees, and he makes sure he sees everything. The scrutiny and concentration of is gaze were remarkable, his head moving continuously from subject to canvas. 

Once the drawing was completed, the painting began. The portraits were all executed in acrylic paint, a medium Hockney hadn’t used for twenty years. After the first few paintings he started using a new brand that has a higher gel content and thus remains wet for longer. This enabled him, over the course of three days, to make the faces of sitters a little more nuanced”. Edith Devaney

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