Thursday, February 06, 2014

Hockney, Printmaker (Review #2) - The Etchings

At the end of my preview of Hockney Printmaker at Dulwich Picture Gallery, my conclusion was that it was likely to be one of the very best exhibitions I'll see in 2014.  

The last exhibition by Hockney in London was a blockbuster.  My guess is that this exhibition will also generate lots of visitors.  It includes over 100 works between 1954 and his more recent work with computers in 2009. (The links are to my reviews of his most recent exhibitions in London)

I'm going to do this review in more than one post, so I can include a lot of images, covering:
  • The Etchings (this post)
  • The Lithography (next post)
  • Recent prints using new technology (last post)
Entrance to the Hockney, Printmaker exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery

The exhibition is curated by Richard Lloyd, International Head of Prints & Multiples, Christies who gave an in-depth and very informative introduction to the exhibition.  He gave quite the best introductory talk by curators of recent exhibitions!  The Curator's Lecture was today and was sold out - and I'm not surprised!
This exhibition will provide an insight into an aspect of Hockney’s work which is often overlooked – that he is one of the most prolific, diverse and technically astute printmakers alive. He has been making prints since 1954 and throughout the subsequent 60 years he has continued to work and experiment. There’s a whole other side to Hockney, which he has devoted an enormous amount of energy and creativity to.
Richard Lloyd
I was very impressed to see that a number of the prints on show are the Artist Proof.

Hockney, Printmaker

Here are the key themes:
  • David Hockney, Artist and Model, 1973-74, 
    Etching, 29 1/2" x 22 1/2", 
    Edition: 100, © David Hockney
    the exhibition celebrates 60 years of Hockney as a printmaker - since his first print was made at Bradford College of Art.
  • printmaking is a medium which Hockney is passionate about 
  • he excels at printmaking which involves drawing and his two main print techniques are etching and lithography. He hates screen prints - because they're too flat
  • he's absolutely fascinated by creating novel ways of making prints 
  • He switches between mediums as this polymath's ideas of what he wants to do next develop
  • Hockney references other artists and their artwork all the time - but in a way which is wholly original to him. The exhibition offers the opportunity to play "spot the artistic reference".
  • He is diligent in doing his homework before he starts work. It's normal for him to do extensive research, visit places and produced lots of drawings before he gets going on the final artwork.
  • Hockney is a very prolific artist. This exhibition picks up on some of the main themes - but there's also a lot that's not there.
  • He's a very literate artist who obviously has a deep love of poetry
  • He typically works in series or themes - which are often multi-layered in their meaning. Lloyd described them as being light-hearted and even amusing on the surface, while underneath they can be an amalgam of Renaissance portraiture and 'Art Brut' or lavatorial art.
  • He creates far more than he releases. This exhibition is interesting because it also includes prints which didn't make the final cut.
  • Hockney has worked with some of the best contemporary Master Printmakers - including Picasso's Master Printer Aldo Crommelynk as well as Maurice Payne in the UK and Ken Tyler of Gemini in California. He has huge regard for them and has participated in novel developments in printmaking.
  • Hockney is an independent man, an independent thinker and, surprise surprise, rather likes the idea of being able to make prints without needing to be assisted by a Master Printer.  So he did.
  • the exhibition holds one or two surprises!

The Etchings

The Etchings are shown here in series. His activity in etching dominated the 1960s and 1990s.
Hockney hit the ground running at the Royal College of Art when he first came to London in 1959. The first room includes some 30 etchings which he produced while at the RCA.  These include Hockney's very first etching with aquatint created age 23. Myself and My Heroes is a work of personal revelation. It includes the poet Walt Whitman and Mahatma Gandhi and a self portrait together with words and phrases of meaning to him.

His prints from this era always remind me of the poet e.e. cummings who also drew and painted. Just as cummings' poems were always spare and precise so are Hockney's use of words within his prints. Also his words when expressing feelings and thoughts are very often lower case - as cummings wrote - and layered with meaning.

The fourth etching is Hockney's idea of a pin up.  He had a massive crush on Cliff Richard but homosexuality was illegal at the time so this etching includes the initials CR next to the word Queen.

There's a sense that Hockney likes to tell stories with his prints and is happy working on more than one print to do so.

A Rake's Progress

A Rake's Progress is a very impressive set of 16 etchings - double that of the Hogarth series which records the downfall of a young aristocrat and which was first published in 1735. Hockney took three years to complete the series. The RCA wanted him to do 24 prints, in the end he did 16 and afterwards has said he wishes he'd just done 8. He actually produced 45 compositions while playing with ideas for the series.  The exhibition includes three images which he started but did not include in the final series.

This was the set of etchings which announced Hockney's arrival as an artist of note.

A Rake's Progress by David Hockney
He's taken the Hogarth series and updated it to create a graphic tale to reflect his first trip to New York in 1961 for his 24th birthday. It includes his portrayal of his meeting with William S. Lieberman who was "the legendary curator of the print department at the Museum of Modern Art". The series concludes following another visit to New York when he met Henry Geldzahler, the First Curator of 20th Century Art at the MoMA.

Both the exhibition and the catalogue explain the story revealed in the individual prints.

It's important to note from a technical viewpoint that these are NOT etched versions of drawings but rather than Hockney developed the drawing direct on the plate.  He also experimented with using the colour red as an addition to the monochrome etching. However this required it was used in an area on the plate untouched by the rest of the etching and in the end he decided he didn't like the way it limited his overall design of the etching.

Illustrations for Fourteen Poems from C.P. Cavafy 

The next major series of etchings after a Rake's Progress was Illustrations for Fourteen Poems from C.P. Cavafy which can be found in the next room.  He commissioned a new translation by the poets Stephen Spender and Nikos Stangos and this was published alongside the etchings in 1967 just as Parliament passed the act which decriminalised homosexual activity.

This series is in effect Hockney's "gay manifesto" - the drawings are his personal stance on his way of living.  This is an audio by Christies which explain the poems.  Apparently at the time, some of the printers refused to be involved with the printmaking due to the topics of some of the illustrations. However, in the context of today's world they now seem quite tame.

Illustrations for Fourteen Poems from C.P. Cavafy by David Hockney
Hockney was introduced to the poems of the Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy (1863-1933) at the RCA by Adrian Berg. Berg introduced him to the poetry of Walt Whitman and Cadafy who both wrote poetry about homosexuality.  Apparently Hockney borrowed a copy of the poems from the Bradford library and hasn't yet got round to giving it back.

The interesting aspect of these etchings are they a very beautiful set of line drawings. He'd been working hard at drawing from life in pen and ink and that really shows through in these etchings.  It was also interesting to hear that he'd been influenced by Matisse. My guess is that he was also influenced by Picasso who was also very capable of producing spare and simple line drawings(Incidentally, his etchings involving line and line drawings in pen and ink are the foundation of my longstanding admiration for David Hockney)

One etching from the series "In the dull Village" was included as a seminal work in A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil McGregor, the Director of the British Museum (Here's the programme on BBC Radio in which you can hear David Hockney confess that he never took the book back to Bradford Library after taking it out for the second time.)

David Hockney, Two Boys Aged 23 or 24 from Illustrations For Fourteen Poems from C.P. Cavafy,
1966-67, Etching, 31 1/2 x 22

Illustrations for Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm

The next big project involving etchings was another one based on a literary source - this time Grimm's Fairy Tales.  The simplicity of them appealed to him and he'd loved them since his childhood.  Again he got a new translation of the original text.

Illustrations for Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by David Hockney
Hockney researched all the known illustrated versions of Grimm's Fairy Tales, read all 239 tales and took a trip down the Rhine to take photographs and make drawings for inspiration.  In all the project took over a year of his life between September 1968 and November 1969 - with the series being published in 1970.

In the end he chose 20 tales, of these 15 were translated and 12 made it to the final series.  That said he'd produced 80 etchings before he realised he needed to rein in his efforts and become more focused.

In technical terms, this series - and the individual images - represents a dialogue between the four principal methods used for etching - hard-ground and soft-ground etching, aquatint and drypoint.  It's as if he set himself challenges to see what he could do.  An example of this is his portrayal of The Glass Mountain.  The challenge was to find a way of portraying the mountain - which he resolved in the end by using the effect of refraction which was evident when another object was placed behind it.  That's the other main reason I like Hockney - he's a clever man who likes solving problems of perception and representation.
A King built a glass mountain and announced he would give his daughter to the first man who could climb it without falling.

The Picasso Prints

There are other etchings in the exhibition I could comment on but the two most obvious - and the prints which a lot of people will be familiar with are the two which involve Picasso.  There are another two which involve Hockney using a technique for using colour with etching using just one plate which Aldo Crommelynck developed for Picasso - but which he was unable to use before he died. Plus a Blue Guitar Portfolio based on Picasso's Blue Period painting of The Old Man with a Guitar - also produced this technique.

There's a great sense of Hockney paying homage to Picasso in the 70s.

The Student: Homage to Picasso (1973) and Artist and Model (1973-4) by David Hockney
Hard and soft ground etching and sugar lift aquatint
He uses sugar-lift aquatint in the latter for his drawing of Picasso in Artist and Model to signify "this is Picasso's technique" - as indeed it was.

Contrejour in the French Style (1974) and Two Vases in the Louvre (1974) by David Hockney
Hard and soft-ground etching with aquatint in colours - produced using one plate

The exhibition also includes significant work in etchings from the 1990s including a self portrait.

I'm going to be going back to this exhibition again to view the prints again after I've read the catalogue from cover to cover!

Other reviews

You can also read other reviews of the exhibition:
The catalogue is very well produced and informative and includes essays by a number of expert commentators as well as an authoritative introduction by the curator.
A fully illustrated colour catalogue published by Scala accompanies the exhibition and features an essay by Richard Lloyd. It explored the key themes in the exhibition in the context of the artist’s biography, together with illuminating texts from contributors such as Marco Livingston, John Kasmin, Peter Tatchell, Celia Birtwell, and Martin Gayford.
The exhibition is as always beautifully hung by the Dulwich Picture Gallery.  Loans have been secured from key lenders including Salt’s Mill, Saltaire, David Hockney Inc., David Hockney Foundation, National Gallery of Art, Washington, National Gallery of Art, Canberra, Bradford Museums and Galleries, Tate and Private Collections.

Associated art events

Special Exhibition Lecture - Art as Autobiography: The Early Work of David Hockney

Sunday 9 March 11am-12pm £9/£10
David Hockney’s Biographer and Hockney:Printmaker catalogue contributor Christopher Simon Sykes gives an exclusive insight into the artist’s childhood growing up in Bradford and his life up until he left the Royal College of Art in 1962

Hockney Printmaker: Etching  

Sunday 9 and 16 March 10.30am – 4pm £70/ £65
Create an edition of black and white prints, inspired by Hockney’s illustrative and still life etchings. Visit theHockney: Printmaker exhibition and create two linear compositions onto beautiful Fabriano Rosaspina paper with printmaker Victoria Browne

Hockney Printmaker: Lithography

Sunday 23 March 10.30 – 4pm £70/ £65
Create an edition of colour prints, inspired by Hockney’s portrait lithographs. Participants will learn a low-toxic techniques and work from the life model with printmaker Victoria Browne

Hockney Printmaker: Love of Line

Five Tuesdays from 22 April to 20 May £55 / £50
David Hockney’s prints demonstrate a love of line and sensitivity to materials and techniques. Taking this as a starting point, explore line drawing in printmaking with artist Jo Veever

Book online at Or by phone on 020 8299 8732


  1. Oh what a treat to settle down with this review even if one can't attend in person - thank you!

    It looks so beautifully organized and gathering all the wonderful Hockney lines.

    Thank you for going for those of us far away and writing about it in such depth!

  2. Thank you for introducing an artist of whom I only knew the name, that he is immensely famous in England and that he now draws on an Ipad. I love etchings and engravings, being a daughter of just such an artist.I wish I could see them in person,they seem interesting.

    Is there an english name for an artist who works with printmaking, etchings and engravings? In swedish it is " grafiker", buth graphics seems to mean something totally different in english.

    I have to say I am a bit dissapointed in an artist who does not print his/her art themselves. My father aways said that printing is an art in itself and being able to print ones own etchings and engravings is a big part of the work of art and the skill of the artist. And having studied my father taking enormous care and skill when printing, always throwing away prints that did not meet his high standard, I have to confess being dissapointed with artists who let that vital part of the print process to be done by others. I assume those printers are indeed skilled craftsmen, but then actually they should be named as co-artists, as the quality of the print is vital to the quality of the artwork. In old etchings and engravings you can often see artwork sharing attributions between the one who drew and the one who engraved ( sadly the printer is seldom named).

    Quality in the way art is "made" is important, unless you do not care for skill but just the concept,or the famous artists brand. Like Warhol who just let others do "his" art, like a factory, and those people were never mentioned! I cannot say I really regard him as a true artist, as skill with your hands and mind, not just ideas in your brain is what makes true art. ( Yes, I know I am oldfashioned;-) )
    Here, in this blog, you mention the printmakers, and that is really great! Thank you again for a very interesting blog post!

  3. An artist inspires people always because he put a hidden thoughts and learning facts Thank you for sharing this page, We are pleasantly surprised.


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