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Chairs

While we often come across chairs in David Hockney’s many seated portraits of friends, lovers and influences, we rarely see them empty. In this collection of Hockney’s Chairs prints, the emptiness of the depicted chairs generates presence in absence such that they become evocative portraits in their own right.

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Meaning & Analysis

A sense of absence characterises Hockey’s Chairs print series, a contrast to the artist’s other works where the chair is usually filled by a sitter.

A sense of absence characterises Hockey’s Chairs print series, a contrast to the artist’s other works where the chair is usually filled by a sitter. Here they present an absence that is hard to ignore and become as evocative as the images of the sitters themselves. With works such asHat on Chair and Panama Hat the addition of clothes and accessories allows us to imagine the absence is temporary, the sitter having momentarily left the scene to return shortly. However when the chair is resolutely empty of both sitter and object it immediately becomes melancholy, as in Slightly Damaged Chair Malibu where a worn armchair takes on the weight of absence in a different way. Here we can align Hockney’s love for chairs with one of his great heroes, van Gogh. one of the most famous paintings by the Dutch post-impressionist is of an empty wicker chair; devoid of embellishment or defining quality it comes across to the viewer as being of great importance, its emptiness at once poignant and arresting. Here the absence feels permanent and the exquisite detail lavished upon its wicker seat, its gnarled back and legs feels like a loving tribute to one who is missed.

A more cheerful antidote to this mournful non-portrait can be found in Hockney’s Picture Of Two Chairs, featuring two overstuffed armchairs in an interior, one of which has been brightly coloured in yellow with red details. Where one empty chair denotes absence, two seem to evoke companionship and intimacy, their positions turned toward each other, evoking conspiracy between the two absent sitters, whom one can imagine engaged in a tête-à-tête.