Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Boys And Girls And David Hockney

I don’t want to move away (for now) from the topic of paintings based on pop media frames without mentioning David Hockney’s extraordinary book, “Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters.” This is a large format, beautifully illustrated history of photorealism in the fine art world, from before the invention of oil painting into the present. There are also many interesting discussions of the epistemology of images in general. (Apparently four hundred years ago some high Vatican officials enjoyed very detailed paintings of naked young men for the same reasons some high Vatican officials today probably get their porn on Blu-ray.)

It’s a great book. I read through the book, cover to cover, once or twice every year. It’s as interesting the third or fourth time through as it was the first.


The most recent Hockney book I’ve read was a retrospective of his drawings.

My favorite works in the book are his colorful pencil and crayon [crayons!] drawings of Celia Birtwell.

When I first read through the book, I just looked at the pictures. Then I went back and read the text. Apparently, I’m guessing, if Hockney were to pick his own favorite images from the book he might not pick images of Celia . . .

“It was incredible to meet in California a young, very sexy, attractive boy who was also curious and intelligent. In California you can meet curious and intelligent people, but generally they’re not the sexy boy of your fantasy as well. To me this was incredible; it was more real. The fantasy part disappeared because it was the real person you could talk to.” — David Hockney

Many have argued that Hockney, in love, captures the intimacy of his relationship with Schlesinger in his drawings. However, as with Hockney’s paintings of him, the drawings should not be confused or conflated with Schlesinger since, in a very real sense, they are not about him. As Peter, Albergo la Flora, Rome (1967) and Peter (1968) make explicit, what the drawings register is Hockney’s active looking at, and possession of, the younger man who is reconstructed in his image. Vision, within this context, achieves the status of an act. Not for Hockney was the benign reciprocity of lovers’ glances.

Ulrich Luckhardt and Paul Melia
writing in David Hockney: A Drawing Retrospective

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