David Hockney (‘Self-Portrait with Charlie’) by David Hockney
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David Hockney (born 1937) is one of the most celebrated and well-known British artists. He came to fame as one of the leading artists involved in the Pop art A movement that emerged in America and Britain in the 1950s that challenged artistic traditions by using imagery from popular consumer culture to create new artworks. movement in the 1960s.
Hockney is particularly known as a painter. He is also known for experimenting, working in a range of Media The materials or forms that an artist uses. and using many techniques. These include drawing, printmaking, photography and stage design. He has been creating artworks using iPads since they first came out in 2010, working with developers to create custom-made apps.
He is also well-known for creating portraits of people he loves, often showing them in pairs. He has created portraits of the same people again and again, particularly his parents and a close group of friends, using different materials and techniques, and showing their changing appearance and relationship with him.
His work also reflects and is inspired by the places he has lived in, including California in the USA and Yorkshire in northern England.
Analysing the portrait
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Look carefully at the portrait. Take your time – look at it for at least a whole minute. What can you see?
- He shows himself painting, standing in front of a large canvas which is on an easel. He holds two paint brushes in his right hand.
- We can only see the back of the canvas but can assume that the painting on the front is what we are now looking at.
- Hockney has shown himself standing in a full-length pose. This is emphasised by the tall, thin shape of the canvas. The shape perhaps also echoes the shape of the mirror he used when painting this self-portrait.
- Hockney’s expression is serious. He looks as if he is concentrating.
- His clothes look casual and comfortable. Although they are his working clothes, the red braces and bright blue shoes suggest his Flamboyant Different, confident and exciting in a way that attracts attention. sense of style, something he is well-known for.
- The man sitting behind Hockney is his friend Charlie Scheips, a New York-based curator, author and painter. In the 1980s, Scheips was Hockney’s studio assistant.
- Most of Hockney’s subject matter is Autobiographical Connected with the story of a person's life, which has been written, drawn or painted by that person. , relating to his life. Portraits of his friends, self-portraits and scenes showing his house and his studio feature in his work.
- The mood of the painting is calm and quiet.
- The two men look relaxed and comfortable in each other’s company.
- Hockney is in his studio, but we don’t see the things we might expect to see in a studio, such as tubes of paint, pots of brushes, stored canvases, and other studio clutter. Hockney’s clothes aren’t splattered with paint.
- Everything looks neat and orderly and there is nothing to disrupt the harmony of the scene or distract us, as the viewer, from focussing on the figures, the space they are in, and the relationship between them.
- Hockney seems to be looking out at us, the viewer, but in reality he is looking at his reflection in a mirror. He is observing himself, the person behind him and the space they are both in.
- Hockney has been fascinated with mirrors and the theme of the artist and model throughout his career.
- In this portrait, he sets up an exchange of Gaze The relationship of looking between sitter, artist and viewer. involving himself, Scheips and us the viewer. Hockney looks out at us, but he is also observing himself and Scheips. Scheips is watching Hockney but does not look out at us.
- Although it looks simple, Hockney has cleverly used the composition to help direct our Gaze The relationship of looking between sitter, artist and viewer. in looking at the painting. We look from the canvas in the foreground on the right, to Hockney in the middle-ground, and then on to Scheips in the background on the left.
- The horizontal and vertical lines of the composition create a sense of balance which adds to the calm mood of the painting.
- The figures are placed alongside these horizontals and verticals. Hockney stands in the middle, his full-length figure echoing the line of the canvas. Scheips, sits on a table against the back wall.
- Despite the narrow format of the painting, Hockney has managed to create a sense of space. This is partly due to the lack of clutter in the studio. But he has also used Perspective The technique of creating an effect of depth and distance within a picture. .
- Two imaginary diagonal lines run from the top right-hand corner and bottom right-hand corner of the painting to where Scheips sits at the back. The top line hits the top of Hockney’s head and the top of Scheips’s head. The bottom line runs from the corner through Hockney’s feet to the feet of the table. (The Vanishing point The point in the distance at which parallel lines appear to meet. is somewhere to the left of Scheips.)
- The size of the objects and figures become smaller from front to back creating the impression of distance. The canvas looks huge at the front, while Scheips’s figure looks small at the back.
- The foreground, where Hockney is standing, appears sharper than the background, where Schieps is sitting. Scheips looks almost blurred.
- The colour palette of the painting is dominated by shades of blue, which create a sense of harmony, adding to the calm atmosphere of the scene.
- Hockney has also used colours to direct our Gaze The relationship of looking between sitter, artist and viewer. around the painting. The bright red of Hockey’s braces draws our eyes immediately to him. We then notice the bright blue of his shoes which match the blue of the back wall, and our gaze is drawn to the background and to Scheips.
- The colour palette of blues and the brightness of the floor and background are typical of Hockney’s Los Angeles paintings. He first visited Los Angeles in 1964. The light, colour and space of the city had a profound effect on his work.
- Hockney has used oil paint on canvas.
- He has diluted the paint with a medium to make it thinner. This has allowed him to make quick loose brushstrokes, giving the painting a spontaneous, lively feel. If you look at the floor and wall in the painting, you can clearly see the brush marks.
- By using thin paint over white or light-coloured underpainting, the pale layer underneath shines through making the painting look as if it is giving off light.
Who is David Hockney?
- David Hockney was born and grew up in Bradford, England.
- He first came to public attention while still studying at the Royal College of Art in London, in 1961.
- On completing his studies in 1962, he was awarded their highly prized gold medal for his exceptional drawing skills and innovative paintings.
- During the 1960s Hockney was one of the main artists involved in the Pop art A movement that emerged in America and Britain in the 1950s that challenged artistic traditions by using imagery from popular consumer culture to create new artworks. movement.
- Since then, Hockney has had a long and extremely successful international career.
- His works have been sold for record-breaking sums of money. In 2018, his painting ‘Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)’ sold for over £70 million.
- In 2012, Queen Elizabeth II awarded Hockney the Order of Merit A group of no more than 24 individuals at a time who have distinguished themselves in science, art, literature, or public service. .
- He is still experimenting with art and producing work today.
Why is this portrait significant?
- This self-portrait by David Hockney includes someone else in the image, which is unusual for his work. It suggests the close bond between Hockney and his friend.
- The painting is one of a series of large-scale single and double figure paintings made by Hockney in 2005. He invited friends to his studio in Los Angeles, USA, where he painted their portrait in just a few sittings.
- He painted the self-portrait directly onto the canvas, without using preparatory drawings or photographs for reference. This reflects his great skill and confidence as a painter.
- Double portraits, portraits of friends and the exploration of relationships are all typical of Hockney’s work. Including himself in the portrait offers an interesting take on these themes.
- What do you think David Hockney is saying about himself in this self-portrait?
- Why do you think he chose to include someone else in a self-portrait?
- Does Hockney’s work inspire your own artwork in any way? How?