Looking is a very positive act

Jill Iredale, our Fine Art Curator has written a post for us discussing David Hockney linked to the exhibition currently on, called David Hockney: Looking is a Very Positive Act . She writes:

Originally this blog was intended to help generate more interest in a tour I am doing of the exhibition David Hockney: Looking is a Very Positive Act. As it happens though there was more interest in the tour than we thought and it is already oversubscribed – so, should you feel enthusiastic about Hockney  I encourage you to go and see the exhibition (but don’t try to book on the tour – it’s full!).

The fact that so many people are interested in hearing about David Hockney tells you how popular he is (which considering he is the most famous visual artist ever to have come from Bradford seems only right I would say). It is hard to know what to say about him though – he has had a career stretching over 60 years; I have more books about him on my shelves than I will probably ever be able to read and many people know more about him than me having researched and interviewed him over decades – so what can I possibly add?

Well, without claiming it is new, I can talk about where it all began. The two most important influences on Hockney’s art that came from his background are 1) at home he was encouraged to be single minded, and 2) at Bradford College he was taught to draw.

Being determined has undoubtedly got Hockney to where he is today (talent aside). Making a successful career as an artist is not an easy task, especially so if you were living in 1950s Bradford. Hockney grew up in Bradford in the 1940s and 1950s, and unless you lived it, I think people (especially children) find it hard to think what a different time that was.

Hockney felt the compulsion to draw from an early age and was keen to get to Bradford College to study art as soon as he could. Despite his best efforts the education board wouldn’t let him leave school early so he arrived at the age of 16 and began his training.

Bradford has a, possibly unique, collection of works from this time. They aren’t as big, glitzy or colourful as the works that came later, they are small and mostly on paper but they do show him practising – and also that he was pretty good at drawing right from the start! I particularly like the portraits, including a self-portrait made in 1954 out of newspaper and magazine paper. There is a portrait of Norman Stevens, his mischievous friend who has a look of Dennis the Menace and one of his father who looks much like he does in the painting My Parents (1977) (which was, incidentally, voted the nation’s favourite in 2014 by over 38,000 people).

Other favourites of mine include two scenes of interiors in Bradford – a laundrette and the indoor market. I can’t help wondering who the people were and if they realized they were being drawn. If they did I bet none of them would have anticipated that they would be appearing on a gallery wall in 2015. The other thing I like about all of these works is that they are uniquely Bradford works. He may have travelled far since but he started in Bradford and these works tell his early story.

I am pleased they are still in Bradford and that people can make the journey to see them in a public art gallery and school children can come year on year to be inspired by them. So we may not have the most or the biggest works like the Tate have but we do have a very special selection of early works, and even if that isn’t an original thought I think that’s worth repeating.

 

David Hockney: Looking is a Very Positive Act is on at Cartwright Hall Art Gallery until Sunday 22 February. A more permanent display of these works is being planned – watch this space.

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