David Hockney's drawings are enormously endearing. Not since the all too-brief heyday of the Beatles has England produced new art so entertaining, accessible, original and humane.
Once upon a time people fell in love with George or John or Ringo. David Hockney is as likable. Once you've sen his show you'll feel, despite its reticence, you are sure you know him. Though he draws like a wizard, his pictures never frighten. He is sure of his affections.
He has called his exhibition-which goes on view today at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden-"Travels with Pen, Pencil and Ink." "And, he might have added, cwith my mimories and masters, my heroes and my friends."
Much as he loves painting, print making and drawing-and he's a virtuoso- he loves people better. His fondness for his parents, for lovely blue-eyed Celia, for sexy Bob and sultyr Nick, warms his exhibition. Though he was raised in Bradford, in cold northern England, he prefers a warmer climate. That is seen in the way he draws California's palm trees, swimming pools, and sun.
The Beatles flared, then faded.
Hockney, 41, gets better every day. They learned their music from the radio, from Chuck Berry and the music halls. Hockney, who has written that his "training was completely academic," draws from wider sources, Egypt and the Renaissance, the cubists and the pointillists. Ken Noland and Picasso.
At the Royal College of Art, in the last years of the '50's, he upset his teachers. He scrawled on shaped canvases, he put words in his pictures, he admitted he liked boys. He did not mind at all when his instructors told him they thought his art was junk.
Hockney's boyish brahsness long ago dissolved. At first his work recalled the brutal art of Dubuffet. Today it suggests Ingres. Hockeny is conversant with stripe painting and cubism (see his "Cubist Tree"), with erudite cartooning (see his "Blue Guitar", and he puns on field painting in the etching that he calls a "A Room Full of Straw." But it is above all else the astonishing refinement of his portrait drawings done from life, in pen or coloured pencil, that one remembers from his show.
"My paintings have content, always a subject, and a little bit of form," he says. It is their content that most moves us. He potrays what he finds beautiful. At art school he objected to the plump old women who posed in the life class.
"I said the models wren't attractive enough; and they said it shouldn't make any difference, i.e., it's only a sphere, a cylinder and a cone. And I said, well, I think it does make a difference, you can't get away from it, and it's true, it does. Any great painter nudes that he liked; Renoir paints rather plumpy girls, because he obviously thought they were really wonderful. . . quite right, Mchelangelo paints muscular marvelous young men; he thinks they're wonderful. . . So I said, 'Can't you get some better models?'. . . The idea of painting an attractive one they thought was rather wicked."
In "Myself and My Heroes," his first etching, each figure in the picture is described with a phrase. We see that Gandhi was a vegetarian (so was Hockney at one time). Walt Whitman gets a quote: "For the dear love of comrades." Above Hockney's rough self-potrait it says: "I am 23 years old and wear glasses." Other men that he admires-Christopher Isherwood, Auden, E.M. Forster, and Henry Geldzahler (an old friedn with whom the artist will lecture tonight at the Hirshhorn) play roles in his slow. Hockney writes, "I am a loner. . . If the crowd goes one way, I think my natural instinct says: 'Go the other way, David.'" But one does not quite believe him.
His art is inclusive and full of sharing
Still, no single style holds him, he serves no special audience. "Tomorrow, if I want, I could get up, I could draw my mother from memory, I could even paint a strange little abstract picture. . . A lot of painters can't do that-their concept is completely different. It's too narrow. . . There's great scope for trying now to make the diversity of modernism inot a synthesis. . . The idea of just designing colors and shapes seems to me so narrow; it's though you've got a wonderful room and you just stay in a corner and look at that corner. Whereas if you really look around the room, you see so much more.""
Though Hockney has been called "Swinging London's Artist," he says, "for me it never swung. . . It couldn't ever really be a swinging place because it is too closed. . . the one good thing about swinging London was that there was a lot of energy released from working-class kids-that hadn't happened before; the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and all that.But it was eventually killed. I think , by English conservatism, trying to make it exclusive again. Instead of opening it up."
No such fear constricts the content, or the styles, of David Hockney's art. The best of English art is kind. Hokcney, in his way, is as humane as E.M.Forster or Dickens.
He writes,"I'm always quoting those lines from Auden's 'Letter to Lord Byron':
To me art's subjects is the humane clay Landscape but a background to a torso;
All Cezanne's apples I would give away For a small Goya or a Daumier.
"I know Cezanne's apples are very special, but if you substitute 'all Don Judd's boxes I would give away,' or, for that matter, 'all Hockney's pools for a small Goya or a Daumier' it has more meaning."
The Hirshhorn is now showing not just Hockney, but "Calder's Universe" and the photorealist picture of Richard Estes (the Estes show has been extended throught April 8.) They are three fine exhibitions. David Hockney's "Travels with Pen, Pencil and Ink," supported by a grant from the SCM Corp., has been touring for two years under the auspices of the International Exhibitions Foundation. It closes here June 10.