The Hockney’s RA portraits: a little splash 

Hockney A Bigger Splash 1967, on display at Tate Britain (not in the RA exhibition)

When I think of David Hockney (b. 1937), I think of his paintings of swimming pools in California – actually, I think of Hockney whenever I am in a swimming pool. There is a bit of California at the Royal Academy in London, as Hockney shows new portraits of his acquaintances in the Los Angeles art world and elsewhere. Hockney returned to acrylic painting for the exhibition, which he didn’t use for about 20 years.  

The RA exhibition has a simple layout, with all paintings hung the same way with names of the sitters above their portraits. No portrait was commissioned: instead Hockney invited his subjects to sit for three days or a 20-hour exposure, on the same chair, in his studio. Recognisable figures from the art world are depicted, as well as his studio manager, masseur, car cleaner etc. According to sitter and RA curator Edith Devaney, sitters could choose their clothes and position on the chair, but the artist would change the position of the chair.   While the background and light remain the same throughout the paintings, there is a variety of expressions in Hockney’s portraits, in my view. Portraits do not fully resemble the sitters and are certainly not idealised – an example is Devaney who gave us a tour of the exhibition and anecdotes. There is assured confidence in the portrait of Larry Gagosian – who only sat for two days, we heard – discomfort and rigidness (Chloe McHugh, Didier Ottinger, Dagny Corcoran), like ability (Bing, McGilvray, John Hockney) and chiliness (David Stoltz).

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

Hockney’s RA portraits are not as striking as his images of urban life and homoeroticism but add a little splash of colour in grey London. ‘David Hockney: 82 Portraits and 1 Still-life’ (one sitter couldn’t attend so Hockney painted fruits on a bench) runs until October 2, 2016.

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