In 1976 Hockney visited Fire Island with his friends Henry Geldzahler and writer Christopher Isherwood. It was here that he came across Wallace Stevens’s 1936 poem The 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”.
These strange compositions are filled with unreadable symbols, offering a dreamlike encounter with the poems of Wallace Stevens, who was not the first poet Hockney had been inspired by. In 1967 he published the series Illustrations For Fourteen Poems By C.P. Cavafywhich was again a loose interpretation of a body of work by the Greek homosexual poet. Even earlier, in 1961, Hockney had produced a print entitled Myself and My Heroes where he portrayed himself alongside American poet Walt Whitman and Gandhi.