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G.E.L. 1979 Portfolio

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Gemini G.E.L. 1979 Portfolio

David Hockney

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Critical Review

In 1979, Hockney was invited once again to produce a portfolio of prints by the prestigious Gemini print workshop, for which he returned to the theme of his earlier series, Friends. However while the previous portfolio was dominated by Hockney’s male friends and lovers, the 1979 portfolio features many portraits of close female friends Celia Birtwell and Ann Upton as well as Celia’s children – by fashion designer Ossie Clark – Albert and George Clark. But it is Celia who features centre stage, her unmistakable features rendered at once in a loose painterly style that recalls Toulouse Lautrec’s work with lithography or Matisse’s portraits of women, in works such as Celia Elegant, Celia Inquiring, Celia Musing and Celia Amused which form their own series. At the same time Hockney has also produced fine lined studies such as Celia Reclining and Celia Adjusting Her Eyelash which recall his pencil and ink drawings. Speaking of his love for Celia as both friend and subject Hockney has said, “Celia has a beautiful face, a very rare face with lots of things in it which appeal to me. It shows aspects of her, like her intuitive knowledge and her kindness, which I think is the greatest virtue. To me she’s such a special person.”

The portfolio also comprises three portraits of Ann Upton who met the young artist in 1960 and became his model two years later. She later met David Graves who became Hockney’s assistant and the pair were married in 1983 with Hockney as the photographer. In contrast with Hockney's portraits of Celia, those of Ann feel less posed. In Ann Combing Her Hair and Ann Putting On Lipstick she is shown in front of a mirror recalling Degas’s Women At Her Toilet.

Why is the Gemini G.E.L. 1979 Portfolio important?

While it is mostly a series of portrait, the portfolio also contains an outlier – a still life entitled Two Vases Of Cut Flowers And A Liriope Plant which features Hockney’s beloved tulips rendered in inky black.

With this series Hockney once again demonstrates his ability to move between styles and mediums, adapting his innate talent of draughtsmanship to produce editions that belie the complex process of lithography. While he usually preferred the directness and speed of etching, by collaborating with Gemini Hockney was able to push the boundaries of print, working with master printer Kenneth Tyler, which in turn allowed him to find new ways to tackle the problem of perspective and portraiture that have driven his artistic career.

A leading print workshop in LA, Gemini only worked with invited artists of their choosing, a process which resulted in the production of some of the most important prints of the 20th century. With this series, Hockney builds on the success of the earlier Friends portfolio, experimenting with line and tone to recreate in print what he does so well in drawing and painting.

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