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Critical Review

This bold series, Moving Focus, shows Hockney experimenting with new techniques and his enduring ability to push the limits of artistic creation. The portfolio, spanning 1984–86, comprises 26 lithographs; however many of the prints also combine different methods such as etching, screen printing or collage in order to achieve a bold aesthetic. Inspired by Cubism, many of these works show Hockney playing with perspective – much like in his earlier photographic collages – across portraits, still lifes and interiors.

Within the series there are a number of studies of the courtyard of a Mexican hotel Hockney stayed in briefly which gives the artist the opportunity to play with space and perspective in a setting that combines the natural with the architectural, the organic with the decorative. The colours in the Hotel Acatlan prints are bright, with pinks greens and reds dominating the palette, creating an immediate association with Mexico. Elsewhere in the series, Hockney’s interiors are often focused on single or groups of chairs, usually made of wicker or rattan, allowing the artist to show off his ingenious use of line and colour in works that recall one of Hockney’s great loves, Van Gogh.

However it is Picassos’ presence which is most felt in the portraits that make up the series, with works such as An Image of Celia, An Image of Ken and An Image of Gregory representing direct imitations of the Cubist style. Here the intimacy of earlier sketches and prints of his companions is at a remove, their bodies and facial features have been reconfigured, the backgrounds are busy and bright, and the works feel more like paintings with their many layers and points of view. And while some of the portraits seem almost to be in movement thanks to their fragmentation and multiple viewpoints, in works such as Amaryllis In Vase and White Porcelain, life has been stilled. The simple compositions allow for Hockney’s other love, flowers, to take centre stage, their simultaneous bloom and decay frozen in time to remind us of the fleeting nature of beauty.

Why is the Moving Focus series important?

Interestingly Hockney includes a few more traditional portraits in this series too. Here is Celia again but this time her image appears to have been drawn with a crayon, her face and background undisturbed, offering a calmer gaze to the viewer in Celia With Green Hat or looking away in profile in the striking Red Celia. Similarly, a portrait of the artist’s mother from 1985 shows the white haired old lady looking squarely out of the frame, her lively features carefully delineated, her green cardigan and armchair contrasting with the pink of her face. Altogether the portfolio shows Hockney at his best, moving between styles and mediums with the confidence of a master printmaker, the title Moving Focus telling us of his enduring fascination with perspective and how it has been manipulated throughout art history, from the Renaissance to Cubism. With works such as the series of interiors of the Mexican hotel we are treated to a glimpse at how the artist himself sees the world, how his eye takes in more than what most people, how he appears to, in his words, ‘feel space’.

Hockney’s largest print series, Moving Focus is perhaps also his most ambitious. Combining multiple styles and techniques it is a tour de force of printmaking and represents the artist’s unfailing fascination with perspective and colour. Across interiors, portraits and still lifes we see Hockney capturing the essence of space and light through these wonderfully bold works.

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