Kasmin Ltd, London
Private Collection, London
London, Tate Gallery, David Hockney, 9 February – 29 May 2017, illus colour, p10
A Man in a Cloak, 1963, is an intriguing, imaginative work made not long after David Hockney graduated from the Royal College of Art in June 1962. This image looks to be a typical mixture of invention and observation and includes a number of motifs found in Hockney’s most iconic paintings from the period.
At the top of the drawing we see five little shower curtain rings ‘hanging’ from the edge of the drawing. Hockney made numerous studies of figures in the shower in 1963 and many paintings and drawings in which subjects are framed by curtains, as if on a stage. This notion is reinforced here by the railing below the figure, which suggests the edge of a stage, and the lettering below, which might be an advert of some kind, or perhaps a fragment of the word ‘circus’. There is a mystery to the figure here, whose head falls into shadow, coloured in with emphatic dense black crayon. That this might be a circus performer is also suggested by the lively marks which decorate the cloak evoking a glittering costume.
The green motif at the top right is intriguing. It might represent a pair of dangling curtains, swooshing into the picture as they do in the painting Domestic Scene Notting Hill, 1963, or it may illustrate something specific Hockney has observed on his travels, as the exact same motif appears in the 1962 painting Man in a Museum (or You’re in the Wrong Movie). It could equally be an in-joke with Hockney’s friend, and fellow R.C.A. graduate, Allen Jones because a remarkably similar pair of green legs dangle into Jones’s painting Parachute Fragments, painted in the same year.
In the summer of 1962, Hockney and his friend Jeff Goodman went to see the Egyptian artefacts at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin and this experience inspired Hockney to make a number of paintings: the aforementioned, Man in a Museum, The First Marriage and Picture Emphasizing Stillness. Egyptian imagery peppered Hockney’s work throughout the year; here the kestrel-like bird sitting on the rail might easily have been transcribed from an Egyptian frieze, or at least from an illustration in an encyclopaedia. In October 1963, Hockney was able to visit Egypt for himself, on a paid assignment for the Sunday Times Magazine. He found the country hugely inspiring and made 40 coloured crayon drawings during his trip.
The origins of this drawing’s cloaked figure are found in the earlier painting Grand Procession of Dignitaries in the Semi-Egyptian Style, 1961 in which a bishop, pharaoh and military general are presented in robes and cloaks that disguise their smaller, inner-selves. The cloak here is used to suggest the roles men are expected to play. This fixity is reiterated in a contemporaneous oil Man with Wings and Rocks, in which the figure’s billowing cloak transforms into a pair of impotent wings, and the figure is rooted to the spot, somewhere between sculpture, rock and human. The highly abstracted and simplified silhouette in this drawing anticipates drawings such as Square Figure Marching, and the lithograph, Man, 1964, both made the following year, in which the figures are reduced to a series of geometrical shapes.
Hockney enjoyed a high degree of critical and commercial success in 1963 - his exhibition at John Kasmin’s gallery (with whom he had signed a three-year contract) Pictures with People In, sold out, as did his portfolio of etchings A Rake’s Progress, which earned him enough money to move to California. In December, he visited New York for the second time and during this trip he met Andy Warhol, Dennis Hopper and Henry Geldzahler, curator of Modern Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who would become an important friend and mentor.