Friends (Gemini G.E.L 1976 Portfolio) David Hockney
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One of Hockney’s most autobiographical series, Friends showcases the British artist’s inherent ability to capture the features and personalities of his closest companions through his deft handling of line and tone in the medium of lithography.
Whether single or double portraits, the works in this series offer an insight into Hockney’s life when he was living in LA in the 70s. From illustrious MoMA curator Henry Geldzahler to the famous writer Christopher Isherwood, Hockney was friends with leading figures in the arts scene and yet these portraits convey an intimacy and ease that can be found in studies of the artist’s parents or lesser known companions.
As with many of the artist’s portraits, the sitter is usually portrayed in an interior setting against a spare background which creates a contrast between the artifice of the composition and the naturalism of the figure. Here chairs and flowers are as carefully arranged as the sitters themselves, their position in space often determining the whole perspective. The series also follows much of Hockney’s oeuvre in its wide range of artistic references, from the artful arrangement of a nature mort in Christopher Isherwood And Don Bachardy to the nod to Ingres and Picasso, and even Van Gogh, in his single seated portraits.
The series was produced in collaboration with the legendary Gemini print studio in LA where Hockney worked closely with Kenneth Tyler to recreate the spontaneity of his line drawings in the lithographic medium. Unlike etching – which the artist had first started out with, most notably producing A Rake’s Progress series while still studying at the RCA – lithography results in a flatter image which can be felt most strongly in his portraits of Joe Macdonald and Nicholas Wilder which are among some of the most polished of the series, in contrast with the sketchier qualities of the portrait of Isherwood and Henry Geldzahler With Hat.
The shift to lithography meant that Hockney had to rely on the assistance of a master printer whereas with etching he could be left to his own devices, resulting in quicker production times and arguably more spontaneous images. In this series however, Hockney began experimenting with drawing with a brush dipped in tusche (diluted lithographic ink) which allowed him to draw more freely. And while the medium of lithography presented new challenges, Hockney proved once again that he was never one to shy away from a new technique. Speaking in 1980 the artist stated, “I love new mediums … I think mediums can turn you on, they can excite you: they always let you do something in a different way”. And while working onto a lithographic stone took away from the naturalism of the artist’s drawings and etchings, he worked hard to recreate some of the casual nature of his earlier work and the sketches he made of his friends in day to day life. For this series, many of the portraits were posed in artificial interiors set up at the Gemini studio but the final image manages to preserve the intimacy of Hockney’s drawings.
Why is Hockney’s Friends series important?
The Friends series represents Hockney’s unfailing ability to adapt to new techniques. From etching and lithographs, to photocopiers and iPads he is an artist who constantly pushes the boundaries of traditional painting and printmaking. Just as he brings a new vision to the genres of landscape and still life, here we see Hockney master the art of the portrait in a series that offers a glimpse into his private life as well as his immense talent.
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