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Drawing visual inspiration from Picasso, Hockney’s The Blue Guitar etchings are based on Wallace Stevens’ 1936 poem, The Man with the Blue Guitar. It was here that he came across Wallace Stevens’s 1936 poemThe Man with the Blue Guitar which had been inspired by a 1903 painting by Picasso entitled The Old Guitarist. Hockney decided to base a series of works on the poems and described how the “etchings themselves were not conceived as literal illustrations of the poem but as an interpretation of its themes in visual terms. Like the poem, they are about transformations within art as well as the relation between reality and the imagination, so these are pictures and different styles of representation juxtaposed and reflected and dissolved within the same frame”.
Hockney had adored Picasso since he first saw his paintings in a retrospective at the Tate in 1960 which he visited eight times. In 1973, when Picasso died, Hockney was invited to contribute to a series of prints inspired by the painter and he ended up going to Paris to work under the tutelage of Aldo Crommelynck, Picasso's master printer. It was in Crommelynck’s studio that Hockney learned to use the sugar lift aquatint technique which was favoured by Picasso to create coloured etchings such as those in the present series.
As well as adopting Picasso’s printmaking technique for this portfolio, Hockney also tried the Cubist perspective on for size in a move that would inform much of his later work, including series such as Moving Focus and his photo collages. In this way he demonstrates his fluency in the languages of style and printmaking, cherry picking from earlier movements and masters to invent something entirely new. Speaking on this ability, critic Gert Schiff said, “The history of art is a history of appropriations. [Hockney] has been able to adapt his reading of Picasso's art to his own very different representational problems and has thereby created works that are fresh, innovative, and personal.”