Getty celebrates Hockney’s 80th
The artist’s self-portraits capture passage of time
The aspiring artist was 17 when he took pencil to paper in 1954 and sketched a mirror-like image of himself as a student at England’s Bradford School of Art.
In the 63 years since, David Hockney has become world famous for painted landscapes, portraits of others and brilliant photo collages of everything from backyard swimming pools to scenic desert vistas.
Lesser known are the hundreds of self-portraits he made over the years, seemingly to simply remind him of the changes time has wrought upon his appearance. Those changes are documented colourfully, and oftentimes humorously, in the exhibition Happy Birthday, Mr. Hockney, which opened at Los Angeles’ J. Paul Getty Museum earlier this summer in honour of Hockney’s 80th birthday. It runs until Nov. 26.
Visitors will also see one of Hockney’s most brilliant photographic works, 1986’s Pearblossom Highway. The rarely displayed collage of 700 photos of California’s high desert is one of more than a dozen Hockney collages on display.
When the museum decided it wanted to do something to mark Hockney’s birthday last month, taking Pearblossom out of storage was a no-brainer.
But officials wanted a little something more for Hockney, who Julian Brooks, the museum’s senior curator of drawings, notes has all but been a neighbour of the museum since moving to L.A. in the 1960s.
London’s Tate Britain museum had mounted a travelling Hockney retrospective earlier this year. It’s currently at Paris’ Pompidou Centre and will move to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in November.
“So we thought is there anything else we could do to show the passage of time that would be fun and interesting, and the self-portraits seemed like a natural idea,” Brooks said.
To museum officials’ delight, the artist thought it was a great idea too and opened up his personal archives and those of his foundation, letting Getty curator of photographs, Virginia Heckert, pick and choose.
The most recent of the selfportraits on display is a series created on his ipad in 2012 in which Brooks notes the artist seems intent on showing his grumpy-old-man side. In one image, he strikes a snarling, ‘get off my lawn’ pose.
In a watercolour from 2003, he’s dressed in a black shirt, tan pants and bright red suspenders and appears lost in concentration as he paints himself.
Taken together, the works show Hockney aging from darkhaired teenager in 1954 to man about town with dyed-blond locks and snappy clothes to greyand-white-haired older gentleman. He holds a hand cupped to an ear in one, reflecting the hearing loss he’s suffered as he’s aged.
Famed for his paintings of landscapes and interiors, The Getty is staging a show that looks at one of Hockney’s lesser-known subject: himself.