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London’s homage to print: Part 2 – David Hockney Printmaker

Last week I told you all about the first of two high profile celebrations to printmaking currently being held in London. The first, Renaissance Impressions at the Royal Academy charts the development of woodcut to create all of the depth and powerful contrast of chiaroscuro in the 1500s. The second unveils a whole new side to celebrated contemporary artist, David Hockney, best known for his colourful Los Angeles Swimming Pools and large scale multi-piece canvases of the Yorkshire countryside, but here shown to be as skillful a printmaker as he is a painter, or, in my opinion, more so.

In presenting this brilliant little exhibition, Dulwich Picture Gallery shows Hockney as a subtler artist; without the distractions of his trademark bold colours, this is Hockney the skilled draftsman; without the almost theatre-scenery sized canvases, here we see Hockney as a man of detail, capturing intimate scenes with a personal aspect, and delivering sometimes simple still lives but with all of the energy of those familiar swimming pool scenes.

David Hockney, Lithographic Water Made Of Lines And Crayon (Pool II-B) 1978-80 © David Hockney / Tyler Graphics Ltd

David Hockney, Lithographic Water Made Of Lines And Crayon (Pool II-B) 1978-80
© David Hockney / Tyler Graphics Ltd

David Hockney, Self Portrait, 1954 © David Hockney

David Hockney, Self Portrait, 1954
© David Hockney

David Hockney, Two Boys Aged 23 or 24 from Illustrations For Fourteen Poems from C.P. Cavafy, 1966-67

David Hockney, Two Boys Aged 23 or 24 from Illustrations For Fourteen Poems from C.P. Cavafy, 1966-67

It is abundantly clear, from the first room of the chronologically hung exhibition, right through to the last, that printmaking has been an important and consistent accompaniment to Hockney’s creative process throughout his career. From his first etchings, amusingly poking fun at his fine art degree (I like the etching which was created using his actual fine art diploma, The Diploma (1962)) and taking a new spin on Hogarth’s The Rake’s Progress, pictorially describing Hockney’s own move to, and development in the US, right through to his recent and renowned use of the iPad as a new digital tool for creating print works, Hockney embraced print and all of the possibilities it provided for artistic expression. His main printmaking stints appear to have been in etching (which lends beautifully to the simple linear illustrations for Cavafy’s Fourteen Poems) and lithography (his print version of his famous swimming pool series being a particularly good example), although Hockney also extended into less traditional print methods – his use of a coloured photocopier to gradually build up a complex image was, for example, particularly effective.

But asides from Hockney’s excellent handling of the medium of print, the images themselves make this show a clear sell-out success. In his Cavafy series, Hockney’s prints exude a wonderful, but always polite intimacy which seems to be characteristic of his somewhat reserved but slightly cheeky persona. With their common place objects and models staring straight out from the print, these images appear to welcome the audience into the works. As viewers, we don’t feel like voyeurs, but more like welcome participants; friends joining in on the happy-go-lucky lifestyle Hockney portrays. In his later Mexico works; Hockney gives us a vivid, energetic lithography whose varying angles and stilted perspective appear to pulsate and dance to the rhythm of that hot Latin country, and remind me a little of the stunningly colourful Grand Canyon works he painted in the late 90s.

David Hockney, Views of Hotel Well III, 1984-85 © David Hockney / Tyler Graphics Ltd., Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt

David Hockney, Views of Hotel Well III, 1984-85
© David Hockney / Tyler Graphics Ltd., Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt

David Hockney, Rain on the Studio Window, From My Yorkshire Deluxe Edition, 2009

David Hockney, Rain on the Studio Window, From My Yorkshire Deluxe Edition, 2009

David Hockney, Artist and Model, 1973-74 © David Hockney

David Hockney, Artist and Model, 1973-74
© David Hockney

David Hockney, Lillies, 1971 © David Hockney

David Hockney, Lillies, 1971
© David Hockney

I also found that some of the best works were the simple ones – a vase of cala lilies, with an accurate and precise cross-hatched background contrasting with the purity of the white flower; a superb iPad image of raindrops running down a window which exudes the cosiness of looking out at rainfall while benefitting from the dryness and comfort of home; and portraits of friends, simply posed, looking straight out at the viewer, prompting interaction, welcoming us in.

It is, therefore, a show with something for everyone, but with an overriding central devotion to the versatile, unique art of printmaking.

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