with Grabowski Gallery, London
Private Collection, London
London, Offer Waterman, David
Hockney Early Drawings, 25 September – 23 October 2015, cat no.6, illus
colour p19, touring to:
York, Paul Kasmin, 3 November – 1 December 2015
Just after graduating from the Royal College of Art with a gold medal, in the summer of 1962, Hockney embarked on a celebratory trip to Italy with the young American artist Jeff Goodman. The met up with Mark Berger and Ferrill Amacker in Florence and the four travelled on together to the lively seaside resort of Viareggio in July. During this holiday Hockney still found time to draw and two works, both titled Viareggio, are known today. Hockney later returned to the subject of Viareggio just over a decade later in August 1973, capturing the town’s famous promenade at dusk from the Hotel Excelsior.
In the present drawing, in which two men walk side by side, Hockney playfully introduces a double meaning - the text ‘Viareggio’ referring not only to the town’s name, but to the Italian verb, ‘viaggiare’ to travel. We see the artist delight in depicting one of the enduring traditions of Italian life, la passeggiata, when, at dusk, the town’s boardwalk would come alive with promenading locals and holidaymakers. Indeed, Hockney’s joy in all things Italian can be felt in his inclusion of the colours of the national flag, which fall across the face of the figure on the left. Mark Berger recalls:
‘I had a little motorbike and one evening when driving about in central Florence, after David had had a few drinks, he became very exuberant and he was sitting on the back of the motorbike shouting out “Pizza Pie” and “Anna Magnami” and all these kind of Italian phrases, and I kept saying “Oh my God, David, they’re going to beat us to death.” It was his spirit and his exuberance.’ 1
Indeed, the ‘exuberance’ and, new found freedom Hockney felt on this holiday and, during this period in his life, is reflected in the subject matter of this work. Much of Hockney’s work is autobiographical and this element is particularly pertinent in the images he was producing as a student in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Hockney had met the artist R.B. Kitaj at the Royal College of Art in 1959, Kitaj remembered, ‘I was painting about my Jews and my books and Hockney was just coming out of the closet, so I said paint that. He did and the rest is art history and gay art history.’ 2
Following Kitaj’s advice, Hockney began to paint works which dealt with his homosexuality, at first tentatively, using coded language and text scrawled across the picture’s surface. In his series of drawings for the Doll Boy paintings (Fig.3) a hunched male figure struggles under the weight of love, labelled with 'unorthodox lover' in one sketch, and 'Queen' in another. In Viareggio, these labels have disappeared and two male figures are depicted taking a leisurely walk together. The figure on the right’s hand reaches out to touch the other’s arm and their faces are coloured with bright lines, mimicking shafts of falling light from the setting sun. This image is one of liberation and happiness.
During the early 1960s Jean Dubuffet was a huge stylistic influence on Hockney and the figures in both Viareggio drawings with their large, uneven heads and exaggerated facial features, mimic the childish and almost crude approach to figuration which Hockney so admired in Dubuffet at the time. Yet little details such as the intense cross-hatching on an inner thigh or forearm and the delicacy and precision of a single line used to describe the human form all serve to reflect the artist’s complete absorption in and concentration on the subject matter before him: a quality that would remain evident in his depictions of the human form throughout his career.
1 Christopher Simon Sykes, David Hockney: The Biography Volume 1, A Rakes Progess, Century, London, 2011, p113
2 R.B. Kitaj quoted in ‘R.B. Kitaj and David Hockney: Collage of a Lifelong Friendship’ ed. Eckhart Gillen, 032c Magazine, Issue 24, Summer 2013, pp176-185