Tyler Graphics 1979 Portfolio David Hockney
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By 1979 Hockney had already produced some of his most famous works, from A Bigger Splash to The Rake’s Progress series of etchings. After almost two decades of experimenting with various techniques he had found ways to bring his unique style and aesthetic into the medium of print and the Tyler Graphics 1979 Portfolio sees him pushing this further with a series of lithographs that evoke his painterly – almost Fauvist – style. Here we see him return to the subject of his friends, which he had explored in a 1976 portfolio, using them as models for portraits that are characterised by their intimacy and tenderness. Recurring characters such as Henry Geldzahler, Ann Upton and Joe Macdonald feature prominently along with other figures such as David Harte and a young boy named Byron.
The prints are characterised by their loose, inky style that suggests a great freedom of expression. They seem to reference both Matisse, with the strong presence of red and blue, and Toulouse Lautrec, who was an early pioneer of using lithography to create a paint-like effect. Most of the figures are shown lounging in chairs and, as with any other of his series of portraits, here the interiors, though sparse, are almost as important as the subject, creating an anchor that holds the composition together and allows Hockney to demonstrate his talent for perspective and texture.
Lithography was not a natural fit for Hockney at first; he initially preferred etching as it allowed him to work alone, resulting in quicker production times and arguably more spontaneous images, without the help of a master printer. However he soon warmed to the medium when he tried it in the mid-70s and adopted the method of drawing with a brush dipped in tusche (diluted lithographic ink) which allowed him to work more freely. Speaking in 1980 about his unfailing enthusiasm for learning new techniques, 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”.
While the series recalls earlier works such as Friends and the Gemini G.E.L 1979 Portfolio of the same year, this series is differentiated by the fact that none of the sitters are meeting the artist's gaze in their portraits. While earlier works saw familiar models such as Celia Birtwell, Christopher Isherwood and Peter Schlesinger looking directly at the viewer (and Hockney), here the figures are turned away, their heads bowed or their eyes drifting off to a point outside the frame, making us feel like we have caught them unawares and are privileged to be witnessing such an intimate scene. The artifice of the traditional portrait has been dropped in favour of a more naturalistic and everyday intimacy that brings the viewer closer to the subject.
The series also contains an anomaly: a cheery beach landscape amid seven serious portraits. Here Matisse's style can be felt again, with the trees, clouds and waves rendered in a few loose brushstrokes. However while it seems to stick out against the studies of Hockney’s friends we can also find parallels with this work in the print of Joe Madcdonald’s shirt in one of the most striking prints from the series Joe with Green Window. Here the natural world has been brought in as an artifice, in the form of a busy textile print, that serves to highlight the economy of line and decoration elsewhere.
Why is the Tyler Graphics 1979 Portfolio so important?
This series shows Hockney’s maturity as a printmaker. Now a master of a number of mediums, the late 70s period shows Hockney going from strength to strength. And while he became a figure of international fame thanks to his paintings, here we catch a glimpse of the intimacy of the life he led behind closed doors.
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