Artists

1970-1979

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Provenance

Deweer Art Gallery, Zwevegem, Belgium
Private collection, Belgium, acquired from the above in 1980
Thence by descent

Exhibitions

Zwevegem, Deweer Art Gallery, David Hockney: Drawings and Prints, 20 September – 28 October 1980, illus, unpaginated

Literature

Nikos Stangos (ed.), David Hockney by David Hockney, Thames & Hudson, 1988, pl. 358, p 258, illus

Description

‘To reduce things to line I think is really one of the hardest things. I never talk when I’m drawing a person, especially if I’m making line drawings. I prefer there to be no noise at all so I can concentrate more. You can’t make a line too slowly, you have to go at a certain speed; so the concentration needed is quite strong. If you make two or three line drawings, it’s very tiring in the head, because you have to do it all in one go, something you’ve no need to do with pencil drawings; that doesn’t have to be done in one go; you can stop, you can rub out. With line drawings, you don’t want to do that. You can’t rub out line, mustn’t do it. It’s exciting doing it, and I think it’s harder than anything else; so when they succeed? They’re much better drawings.’ 1 David Hockney, one of five children from what he described as a ‘radical working-class family’, spent all but six months of his childhood in Bradford, West Yorkshire. 2 His father Kenneth (1904-1978), married his mother Laura (née Thompson) in Bradford in 1929, at this time she was working as an assistant for the London Rubber Company and he as an accountant’s clerk for a local dry-salter. Laura, a vegetarian Methodist, was the centre of the domestic household, while Kenneth, in contrast, was renowned locally as an eccentric, who held strong political views and supported social causes with real passion. Kenneth was a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and, as such, he wrote numerous letters of appeal to world leaders and was known to leave copies of Peace News in public spaces around Bradford. He was very careful about his appearance and would often sport a bow tie, to which he would apply paper spots for variety. He kept an array of false teeth and spectacles, labelled ‘’best’’, ‘’next best’’ etc., which he would select according to the importance of the occasion, and had a curious habit of wearing two watches, due to his assertion that one was wrong. Both parents were extremely supportive and had a profound impact on the development of their son. It is clear that Hockney inherited his father’s flamboyant sense of style, individualism, great sense of humour and love of art, music, opera and theatre. When asked what he had most valued in his father, Hockney replied: ‘He taught me not to care what the neighbours think.’ 3 After leaving Bradford in 1959 to attend the Royal College of Art in London, Hockney maintained a close relationship with his parents, keeping in close touch by telephone, letter and in person. As such, it is no surprise that they have been the subject of numerous works by the artist, ranging from line drawings, such as the present work, to coloured crayon drawings, prints, photographs, photocollages and paintings. Indeed, Kenneth is the subject of one of Hockney’s earliest known paintings, Portrait of My Father, 1955. However, it was not until September 1970, whilst visiting Laura in hospital where she was recovering from an operation, that Hockney closely observed the interaction between his parents and first conceived of painting a portrait of them together, as he recalls: ‘My father could go to the hospital every day for a few hours (…) but he wasn’t used to sitting and talking to her for a few hours every day at home. He would be doing something, my mother would be doing something else. It was then that I noticed that people communicate in other ways, it’s not just always talking, especially people who know each other well. They’d been married forty-five years, and if you’ve been living with somebody forty-five years, you know a lot about the face, the little actions, what they mean. You know how to interpret them. I think it was then I decided there was a subject there I somehow wanted to try and deal with.’ 4 Hockney revisited the idea of a double-portrait in October 1971, when he took a number of photographs of Laura and Kenneth back in Bradford, from which he made a series of preparatory drawings in 1972, including My Father, The Artist’s Mother, Mother (wearing black dress with white spots), and the present work. These drawings belong to a larger body of portraits Hockney made, in the twelve years between 1966 and 1978, of people in his inner circle - friends, lovers and family. In 1966, Hockney became preoccupied specifically with line drawing and, by the end of the 1960’s, he had become highly skilled at drawing with pen and ink. Artist's Father Reading at Table is a superlative example from this period, which showcases both Hockney’s technical deftness and the distinctive, easy charm he brought to the medium. Three years later, in 1975, after making a series of further drawings and photographs, Hockney finally set to work on the large-scale painting My Parents and Myself, which shows Kenneth and Laura seated, with Hockney reflected in a mirror on the table between them. Dissatisfied with the painting, Hockney later abandoned it and, in February 1977, began a second version, My Parents, 1977, in which he removed himself to focus on his parent’s relationship to one another. In this work, painted just a year before his father’s death aged 74, the contrasts between his parent’s characters are wonderfully captured. Laura, always attentive during sittings, sits very upright in her chair facing the viewer frontally, while Kenneth, a notorious fidget, is shown at a three quarter angle, slumped downwards, reading a book on his lap, in a pose very similar to the present drawing. Hockney later said of My Parents, 1977, ‘I think the painting of my father is very good - he was always in his own world.’ 5 This observation wonderfully illustrates Hockney’s assertion that ‘Portraits aren’t just made up of drawing, they are made up of other insights as well.’ 1 Hockney cited in ‘Line portraits’ chapter of Edmund Pillsbury (intro), David Hockney, Travels with Pen, Pencil and Ink, Petersburg Press, 1978, London 2 Hockney cited in Portrait of David Hockney, Peter Webb, Chatto and Windus, London, 1988, p1 3 Hockney cited in Webb, Ibid, p3 4 Hockney cited in Christopher Sykes, Hockney The Biography, A Pilgrims Progress, Volume 2, 1975-2012, Century, London, 2014, p12 5 Hockney cited in Webb, Ibid, p154