This show originally opened in 2020 and lasted only 20 days before it was shut down due to the pandemic-induced lockdown. However, as Hockney is highly prolific he’s produced lots more works since and this show has over 30 new works that were never featured in the original. The exhibition opens with a little nod to this fact with two self-portraits: one of Hockney as a boy that was in the 2020 show, next to a more recent work where he’s understandably significantly older – but looking a lot more assured.
It’s his self-portraits that are the stars of this show, whether him as a schoolboy or his own take on Hogarth’s painting series A Rake’s Progress, with his version showing the stages of his journey as a gay man in New York. Other times he’s depicted screaming at the viewer or with a cigarette limply hanging from his mouth.
Hockney’s strength lies in his personal connections with his sitters and this is evident in the many ways he’s captured British designer Celia Birtwell over the years, from when she was young right through to much later in life. One of the standout pieces is of his parents seated opposite each other, although looking as if they are in separate rooms. With Hockney himself visible in the mirror it hints at a fractured family dynamic, although there's also a tenderness of a photo collage of his mother at the ruins of an abbey as a widow – the work itself pieced together in a reflection of how she probably felt at the time.
Where Hockney hasn’t had the chance to build a long-standing relationship with the sitter it’s evident, such as in the last room which includes his rather underwhelming portrait of Harry Styles. However, under his take on Styles there’s a painting of himself on a wheeled chair in his studio, a slight smile on his face, that feels so much livelier.
Not every work here is a masterpiece but there’s such breadth on show that the dips are forgiven as the exhibition reminds us of the diversity of Hockney’s artistic genius, his evolution as an artist and his ability to convey powerful and subtle emotions through his portraits.
Second image - photo: Jean-Pierre Goncalves de Lima.
|What||David Hockney: Drawing From Life, National Portrait Galley, review|
|Where||National Portrait Gallery, St Martin's Place, London, WC2H 0HE | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Charing Cross (underground)|
02 Nov 23 – 21 Jan 24, 10:30 AM – 6:00 PM
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|