In a time dominated by abstract and theoretical concepts in art, it's unusual for an artist to make the candid circumstances and people of his own life his subject matter. It's rarer still to be able to see, especially while the artist is living, this human side. But that's the opportunity that arrives Jan. 30, when the first exhibition devoted exclusively to David Hockney's portraits opens at Loyola Marymount University. The collection of 71 drawings by the Yorkshire-born artist, who has spent most of the past two decades in Los Angeles, traces his evolution through the relationships that have shaped him.
Most of the drawings in the exhibit ("David Hockney: Portrait Drawings 1966-1984," at Loyola's Laband Art Gallery through March 14) are from the artist's personal collection. Seen together, they constitute an intimate testament to the private man behind the public self. Hockney has never worked as a professional portrait painter. He has consistently refused commissions, preferring to draw people he knows well and to whose moods he is sensitive. "I think the way I draw, the more I know and react to people, the more interesting the drawings will be," he says. "I don't really like struggling for a likeness."
In the late 1960s, Hockney's portraits were elegant, restrained line drawings in pen and ink. These examples of severely controlled technique remain among his most admired works. But in recent years he has tried other methods of expressing space and volume and capturing fleeting aspects of the sitter's personality and physiognomy. These other methods have evolved principally through the example of Picasso's lifelong development of Cubism, which has led Hockney not only to particular ways of representing three-dimensional form on a flat surface but also to his photographic experiments, which have fundamentally altered his concept of what can be conveyed in a hand-drawn picture.
Hockney's discoveries with the camera, and the theories he has developed on the advantages of a "moving focus" over the fixed one-point perspective that dates back to the Renaissance, have startlingly transformed his hand-wrought images. He notes that the one-point perspective limits the viewer by implying a fixed standpoint and a view into a separate space. In its place he has sought to create a space that envelops us, to bring us into closer contact with the subject--and with the artist's experience in making the picture.
Hockney's latest experiments have centered on using office-size photocopiers as printing presses for boldly drawn and colored images, which he terms "home made prints." Through these he has again changed his ideas about drawing, as can be seen in his design for the catalogue accompanying the exhibition. Rather than reproducing each drawing photographically, he has concentrated on the face in each one, repeatedly enlarging this detail on the photocopier until the quality of line and surface is completely altered. Each image has, in effect, been redrawn, and the catalogue is a work of art in its own right.