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Celine Fraser, Acquisition Coordinator
Created as part of Illustrations For Fourteen Poems By C. P. Cavafy, According To Prescriptions Of Ancient Magicians (1967) is a signed etching by David Hockney that represents his lifelong inspiration with gay culture and world literature. Through the subtle and intimate images of young male couples recurring in the series, Hockney aims not only to evoke the atmosphere of Cavafy’s poems but also represents the very quality of the Alexandria-born Greek poet’s writing.
In According To The Formulas Of Ancient Greco-Syrian Magicians (1931), one of Cavafy’s last poems that inspired the etching, a man longs to be reunited with the lover of his youth, wishing for a potion to move him back in time and “bring back the age of twenty-three again; bring my friend at twenty-two years old back [to me] again – his beauty, his love.’’ The drawing of two men in bed presented in the print was copied onto the etching plate from Boys In Bed, Beirut, an ink drawing of Hockney’s friends made in London.
The etching captures the evolution of Hockney’s approach to the themes of eroticism and same-sex desire. Having debuted as an artist before homosexual acts between men were legalized in England and Wales in 1967, Hockney started with a subtle and rather indirect way of representing gay love. We Two Boys Together Clinging (1961), an early painting inspired by Walt Whitman’s poem of the same title, engages with intimacy and eroticism through subtle symbols and highly abstracted representation. Preceding the artist’s bold nude portraits of his lovers including Gregory Evans, the Cavafy illustrations represent the gradual evolution of Hockney’s idiom.