Drawing from Life
“David Hockney: Drawing from Life,” organized by the National Portrait Gallery in collaboration with the Morgan Library & Museum and the artist himself, is one of the first exhibitions to hone in on the drawing practice of the art world giant. Tracing the British artist’s oeuvre from his early work as a student in the 1950s, to his Mannerist-inflected portraiture of the 1970s, to his return to the sketchbook in the early 2000s, “Drawing from Life” is exclusively populated by an intimate quintet—designer Celia Birtwell, curator Gregory Evans, printmaker Maurice Payne, the artist’s mother, and the artist himself—rendered across nearly every medium imaginable: print, pen, charcoal, watercolor, photo collage, and recently, iPhone and iPad drawings.
It’s stunning to see Hockney, an artist who has traveled to and depicted an astonishing range of subjects and places, from the Arctic north, to rural France, to Iowa and Kyoto, train the same searching gaze onto this close cluster of sitters. In My Mother, Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire, Nov. 1982 (1982), Hockney collages photographs and negative space to deliver an affecting portrait of his recently widowed mother, cloaked in a rain jacket before slick headstones and the ruins of the abbey, while the artist’s own leather brogues are captured in the foreground. There is Celia Birtwell, gentle and sun-dappled in watercolor in Celia, Carennac, August 1971; ashen-faced, hatched in shadows, in Celia, 8365 Melrose Avenue, Hollywood, 1973; cartoony and big-eyed in crayon in Celia in Hollywood, May 1984. In Self Portrait with Red Braces, 2003, Hockney bends before a canvas and peers intently over his spectacles, the very picture of intensity; his left hand, the pinkie just grazing the page, traces a delicate blue line—perhaps the beginning of the very portrait before us.
David Hockney, Self Portrait with Red Braces, 2003, Watercolor on paper, 24 x 18 1/8 inches, © David Hockney, Photography by Richard Schmidt.