Drawing from Life at the National Portrait Gallery delves into David Hockney’s six-decade journey through intimate portraits of pivotal figures in his life. The exhibition showcases his versatility across various mediums, offers a glimpse into his evolving style, and bolsters the artist’s profound connections with his subjects.
The show opens with a self-portrait of Hockney, an older version of his iconic self, contentedly holding a cigarette and a paintbrush, symbolizing his unyielding passion for life.
In his 1961 etching “Myself and My Heroes,” Hockney stands beside Walt Whitman and Mahatma Gandhi, two influential figures embodying the mystery of being alive and the power of love.
The exhibition explores Hockney’s early life, growing up in a liberal Bradford family with a peace campaigner father. His rebellion was an embrace of personal freedom, discovered in the United States during the 1960s. This period is vividly depicted in his “A Rake’s Progress” series, capturing his experience of the open and confident gay culture of early 60s America.
Hockney’s hedonism and libertarianism were characteristic of the 1960s but may seem at odds with 21st-century sensibilities. However, labeling him solely as a gay artist is an oversimplification. This exhibition reveals Hockney as a lover of beauty who makes no apologies for finding it.
A significant portion of the exhibition is dedicated to portraits of his friend Celia Birtwell, showcasing Hockney’s deep reverence for her beauty. His artistic hero, Picasso, is also honored in the exhibition, with Hockney creating works that pay homage to the iconic artist. Hockney’s ability to channel Picasso’s style is evident throughout his art, emphasizing their shared appetite for capturing the essence of existence.
The exhibition concludes with a series of paintings of his neighbors and visitors in Normandy, all created after the end of lockdown. These portraits may not be as complex or precise as his earlier works, but they exude a genuine, unadulterated enthusiasm for life.
Featured Image: David Hockney Harry Styles (2022). Courtesy of the artist and the National Portrait Gallery