Visitors to David Hockney’s RA show
have marvelled at his latest innovations in drawing and inventive use of technology. As 147 of his works on paper go on sale at Christie’s
this week, the RA Magazine Blog explores the artist’s enduring exploration of new ways to draw.
David Hockney, 'A Rake's Progress (S.A.C. 17-32; Tokyo 12-27)', 1961-63
Draftsmanship lies at the heart of David Hockney’s gift as an artist. When he arrived at the Royal College of Art in 1959, the first things he did were 'two or three very careful drawings of a skeleton, just for something to do'. The late RB Kitaj, a fellow student, thought these the most beautiful art school drawings he had ever seen, and bought one for £5.
Over the subsequent half century drawings and prints in many media have never ceased to be an important part of Hockney’s output as can be seen from the catalogue of the auction 'Hockney on Paper' at Christie’s, South Kensington this Friday.
Among his early masterpieces are the sixteen etchings of A Rake's Progress (1961-3). He went on to use lithography and aquatint, and to pioneer novel print-media of his own invention such as the Handmade Prints series made in 1986 using an early office colour photocopier, through which the image would be put a number of times, thus – as Hockney pointed out - creating blacks so dense that the copier itself could not re-copy them. A few years later he was using another novelty, the fax machine, to make prints which could be sent down a telephone.
(L-R) David Hockney, 'Green Grey & Blue Plant, July (Tokyo 317)', 1986. David Hockney, 'Diptychon', 1989
In the current exhibition at the Royal Academy there are, beside the paintings, felled trees and woodland in charcoal, a marvellously beautiful sketch book of hedgerow plants in ink and works in pencil, watercolours, crayon (coloured pencils) as well, of course, as his latest medium: printed iPad drawings. Note, incidentally, the way in which the nature of his iPad works has changed since he discovered the possibilities inherent in printing them out. Before they were conceived as works to be seen on a small, glowing screen; the largest iPad works in the current RA exhibition, the spectacular landscapes of Yosemite, are six-feet high. The results resemble a Chinese scroll more than anything one might associate with a computer screen.
David Hockney, 'Lithograph of Water made of thick and thin Lines and two light blue Washes (POOL #1E)', 1980
When I asked Hockney why he liked to use such a range of drawing methods, his answer was essentially that a change in medium refreshes his inspiration: 'Anyone who likes drawing and mark-making would like to explore new media. I’m not a mad technical person, but anything visual appeals to me. Mediums are about how you make marks, or don’t make them. In linocuts, for example, everything has to be bold. You don’t make tiny, thin lines in a linocut, it would be too niggly. But get an etching plate, and it’s about fine lines. Anybody who draws will enjoy that sort of variety of graphic medium: because it requires inventiveness.'
Few artists of any era have been as indefatigable as Hockney has been in the pursuit of all the diverse ways in which it is possible to make images from marks on paper. And it is a fair guess that in the years to come he will try any new manner of drawing that comes along.
Hockney on Paper,
Christie's, South Kensington. The works are now available to view: 15 Feb 9am - 5pm, 16 Feb 9am - 5pm. The sale takes place 17 February 2012 at 11am.
A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney by Martin Gayford (£18.95, Thames & Hudson).