Lot 107: David Hockney
Picture of a still life that has an elaborate silver frame, 1
Inscribed “For Jack and Jim from David” in graphite lower right
Image/sheet: 29.75" x 21.75"; Frame: 30.5" x 22.75"
Provenance: Jack Larson and James Bridges, Los Angeles, California (acquired directly from the artist)
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David Hockney (born 1937) has been described as the most popular and versatile British artist of the 20th century. In the results of a 2011 survey of 1,000 British painters and sculptors, his peers went further, naming Hockney the most influential British artist of all time. Such stature may be attributed to both the clarity and frankness of Hockney's art–in media spanning painting, drawing, printmaking, photography, and stage design–as well as the creative zest and enthusiastic engagement with the world which is evident therein.
Hockney grew up in the city of Bradford in Yorkshire county in northern England. He studied at the Bradford School of Art from 1953 to 1957 and at the Royal College of Art in London from 1959 to 1962. Though he was educated at a time when abstraction dominated the art world, Hockney stuck resolutely to figurative painting and drawing. His early paintings suggest a search for style, veering from spindly experiments in Expressionism to what today resemble amalgamations of James Ensor and Jean-Michel Basquiat. But all fell into place when Hockney arrived in Los Angeles in 1964. The escape from the oppressive air of Britain–cold, gray, rainy–to a world of bright sunshine, warmth, and sparkling water brought Hockney a sense of freedom and an artistic epiphany. "The day he stepped off the plane in Los Angeles, everything changed," wrote the British art critic Richard Dorment. "In a moment I would seriously compare to Vincent Van Gogh's arrival in Arles, it is as though the heat, light and color of California entered Hockney's bloodstream. Overnight, a talented British artist became a major international star."
He would spend most of the next five years in L.A. painting luminous pictures of the things that made him happy and that made him a name: swimming pools, manicured lawns, palm trees, stucco buildings, and luxuries unknown in England such as shower stalls. Hockney would also paint people. His portraits are considered by many to be his finest work: grandly scaled yet intimate, sharply realized and at the same time resonantly poetic. One reason for the piquancy of these portraits is their exclusive reliance on Hockney's friends, family, and special acquaintances as his subjects. His closest friends in Los Angeles–the author and fellow ex-pat Christopher Isherwood and his companion, Don Bachardy; the actor and writer Jack Larson and film director Jim Bridges; art dealer Nicholas Wilder; his own companion of those years, artist Peter Schlesinger–would also be the subjects of Hockney's work. Larson introduced Hockney to the art collector Betty Freeman, who would become the subject of one of his greatest paintings, Beverly Hills Housewife (1966).
Three groupings of works by Hockney offered in this sale merit a particular note: the etchings from the 1966–67 series Illustrations for Fourteen Poems from C.P. Cavafy. Constantine Cavafy (1863-1933) was the son of a Greek merchant family who lived most of his life in Alexandria, Egypt, where he worked as a clerk. His poetry–gentle but forthright mediations on intimacy between young men–were anthologized two years after his death. In his youth, Hockney stole a copy of the book from a Bradford city library. In a 2010 BBC radio program, the director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, discussed Hockney's Illustrations–specifically the etching In the Dull Village–in terms of human rights, calling it "a courageous, provocative act." Homosexuality was illegal in Britain when Hockney was making the etchings, and they were published the year parliament finally de-criminalized it. On the BBC show, Hockney acknowledged that he was making a personal statement in Illustrations: "I wasn't speaking for anybody else, but I would certainly defend my way of living."
Livingstone, Marco. David Hockney. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print. Hockney, David, and Nikos Stangos. David Hockney. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1977. Print. Dorment, Richard. "Hockney at Nottingham Contemporary, Review." The Telegraph [London] 23 Nov. 2009: n. pag. Telegraph Media Group. Web. 7 Jan. 2016. Drohojowska-Philp, Hunter. Rebels In Paradise: The Los Angeles Art Scene and the 1960s. New York: John Macrae Book/Henry Holt, 2011. Print. MacGregor, Neil. "Hockney's 'In the Dull Village'" A History of the World in 100 Objects. BBC Radio 4. London, 19 Oct. 2010. Radio.