The Holburne Museum – Bath – 27 May – 18 September 2022
A lavish collection of rarely seen drawings by one of our most popular and recognisable artists goes on display in Bath this summer
In 2017, prior to the opening of a retrospective exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, David Hockney (b.1937) painted the words ‘Love Life’ on the final wall of the show. Explaining his actions, he said: “I love my work. And I think the work has love, actually … I love life. I write it at the end of letters – ‘Love life, David Hockney.”
That simple exhortation is a now common refrain for the artist, who regularly appeals for people to enjoy the simple beauty of the world around them. Although Hockney’s love of life has been exemplified through recent bodies of work, such as depicting the progress of spring in his native Yorkshire (2011-13) and, most recently, in Normandy (2020), the Holburne’s new exhibition will demonstrate how Hockney’s ‘Love Life’ dictum has underpinned his art since the 1960s.
Hockney’s delight in the world is no better demonstrated than in the drawings he made in the late 1960s and 1970s. Visitors to the exhibition will be able to marvel at his extraordinary power of observation and skill in using tiny, mundane details to help capture a situation, a sitter’s character, or a place.
The Holburne Museum’s Director and curator of this exhibition, Chris Stephens says: “Hockney’s drawings of this time are some of the greatest bodies of draughtsmanship in the whole canon of western art. In pencil, coloured crayon and, especially, pen and ink, he captures the look and character of his subject with the utmost economy. As Love Life demonstrates, a few lines can perfectly describe the fall of someone’s clothing, the impression of a head on a pillow and his ability to find beauty in the most ordinary of things: empty chairs in a hotel lobby, the mess of a table after an al fresco lunch, a friend’s glasses protruding from his pocket.”
He adds: “The exhibition reveals his delight in the world around him and the way he sees deeply and then condenses a given scene in the most concise way, like visual poetry.”
Hockney’s finding of beauty in the ordinary is most beautifully expressed in his still life’s, from a box of matches on a table to prosaic bunches of spring onions and leeks. This sense of delight is also expressed in his renditions of architectural exteriors and interiors, with a particular interest in empty rooms, chairs, and windows. It is also a key aspect of his famous portrait drawings, in which he uses closely observed details to capture the character of his subject – the twist of restaurateur Peter Langan’s tie, a cigar protruding from Henry Geldzahler’s fingers – and their setting; precisely rendering certain details of the furniture in a room, whether they be Celia Birtwell’s Breuer chair, or cars in a Viennese street behind the artist R.B. Kitaj. Whatever the subject matter, Hockney always captures it with both sensitivity and a certain wit.
Counterbalancing his more everyday subjects, Hockney’s depictions of his friends remind us of the elevated circles he was already moving in during the formative stages of his career, including three great writers of the 1930s (seen in later life), W.H. Auden (1907-1973), Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986) and Stephen Spender (1909-1995), the aforementioned Peter Langan (1941-1988), plus Celia Birtwell (b.1941) and Ossie Clark (1942-1996), the subjects of one of his most iconic paintings, Mr. and Mrs. Clark and Percy (1971).
With over 40 of Hockney’s drawings on loan from private collections, Love Life is a wonderful way to enjoy his artistry, as Chris Stephens asserts: “I am so excited to present this wonderful show of master drawings, some well-known and some rarely seen. I have long believed David Hockney to be one of the greatest draughtsmen of all time and I consider his drawings of the later 60s and 70s to be among the greatest works by him and, for that matter, by anyone else.”
David Hockney OM CH RA was born in Bradford, West Yorkshire on 9 July 1937. He studied at Bradford School of Art (1953-58) and the Royal College of Art (1959-62) and became an important figure in the pop art movement of the 1960s. Today, he is regarded as one of the most influential and important British artists of the late 20th century.
In 1964 Hockney moved to Los Angeles, which had a significant impact on his life and art. During the period covered in the Holburne’s Love Life exhibition, Hockney moved between residences in LA, London and Paris.
Much as he is a renowned painter and draughtsman, Hockney is also an accomplished printmaker, stage designer, photographer and videographer. Now in his 80s, Hockney continues to be an innovator by embracing new technologies and changing his style accordingly. From his portraits and images of Los Angeles swimming pools, through to his drawings, Polaroid compositions, Yorkshire landscapes and spring paintings, Hockney has amassed a body of work that continues to make him one of Britain’s best-loved artists.
The Holburne Museum’s mission statement is ‘Changing Lives Through Art’, signalling its commitment to opening up the enjoyment of art to people of all ages and from every walk of life. The Holburne was founded in 1882 with the gift of Sir William Holburne’s collection of 16th– and 17th-century Italian and Dutch paintings, silver, sculpture, furniture, porcelain and diverse objets d’art of national and international significance. That founding gift has been augmented with a collection of 18th-century paintings by such artists as Gainsborough, Lawrence, Ramsay, Stubbs and Zoffany. Set within the historic Sydney Pleasure Gardens, the Museum reopened in May 2011 after ambitious renovations and with a new, award-winning extension by Eric Parry Architects. The Holburne has since secured a national reputation as an outstanding museum which holds critically acclaimed exhibitions. Its programme of exhibitions, commissions and events sets out to bring to Bath great art of all periods and from around the world, seeking to set the art of the past in dialogue with contemporary practice in exciting and dynamic new ways.