A visit to The Morgan Library & Museum for a look at the work of British artist David Hockney, whose fascination with portraiture has spanned his 50-year career. Director Colin B. Bailey is our guide to “David Hockney: Drawing from Life.
He has drawn in different modes for decades and focus on them.
This is a family album.
David's mother, Nora Hockney, who died aged 99 in 1999.
His great friend, Celia Birtwell, great fashion figure, a dress designer and who's still very active in London.
His great English friend, Morris Payne, who's a printmaker who worked with him on all of his early works and continues to do so.
His lover, his partner, his curator, now just a good friend, Gregory Evans, whom he met really in the seventies, and then finally David's most constant topic, most constant sitter, most constant subject, himself.
He's born in Bradford in the north of England.
He's from a working class family.
At 17 he's in art school, and he's very, very capable.
And we see the earliest drawings where in a sort of naturalistic mode, but also the great early drawing of him, the dandy with his glasses and this collage, which is newspaper, which is fantastic and a sense of in a way, knowing the modernist world from the north of England at 17.
He was a sponge.
He just imbibed everything.
And this will continue when he goes to London, when he makes his first trip to New York, when he lives in LA, when he goes to Paris, it's just growing all the time.
Most of David's portraits of his mother understandably are done indoors.
She was a homebody, but there is this wonderful Polaroid collage done at Bolton Abbey, which has her in a raincoat.
It's a wet day.
We see the ruins of the Gothic Abbey behind her.
We see tombstones.
And then if we look at the very bottom of the composition, which is quite a large composition for him, we see a pair of shoes and those are David's feet.
David is taking his mother's photograph from a certain distance, and it was at Bolton Abby that her husband had proposed to her.
There's such a lot of emotion in that.
These five are the people that he's drawn constantly over decades and as he says, by not having to struggle to find a likeness, to get to know the people so well, to have them knowing him so well, he can catch up all sorts of psychological, visual ideas that interest him.
It's almost what he doesn't include as much as what he does include that gives a sense of evanescence of character and of the moment and particularly, I think with Celia, there's an enormous intimacy that is sensual, erotic in a way, and highly respectful of her as a figure.
David Hockney from the very beginning has been open to new technologies.
Once iPads and computers are available to him, he is straight then.
He loves the fact that he can draw immediately on the screen and we have about 12 of these monitors showing different drawings as he's making them.
You meet David.
And that's when you see him in a way unvarnished, warts and all, in all different moments.
He has a dry northern wit and a sight irony.
He's always been a dandy.
These blue eyes and the red braces and he's bending over and he's actually doing watercolor because you can see the brush.
And it's both slightly professorial because he's looking over his glasses to you, it's a little vulnerable because he's capturing himself in a way at work.
For David, work, drawing is like breathing.
All exhibitions take a long time to organize.
And the idea was to show David's drawings in a museum that is so our museum, so well-known as the home of drawing.
And then of course the pandemic came.
What was completely unexpected was when people could begin to come back in small numbers to the Morgan, there was a sense that you were getting to meet a new group of people.
And that this moment has been an incredible solace.
I've heard this from many people who've come to see the show.
They just feel that there's a connection.
And of course, David makes a connection, particularly with these five sisters all the time, but in this particular climate, that connection is even more powerful.
[inspiring orchestral music]