82 portraits and 1 still life, David Hockney, Royal Academy, 2016 London

This exhibition is like a scientific experiment into the nature of portrait painting.
All the portraits are exactly the same size and shape. They are all full body portraits of a subject sitting in the same, yellow cushioned, wooden chair. They all have roughly the same, green and blue, background and each one was painted over the course of 3 days. They are all very recent – some only painted in February and March this year. There are 83 paintings crammed together in 3 small rooms, the walls painted in a matt magenta. A couple of people are pictured twice and one person three times over the course of the exhibition.
The individual portraits themselves are very good; Hockney is a fine portrait artist, but this is a single piece of work and it is seeing the whole exhibition as a unit that transforms this into an exceptional show. The uniformity of the portraits in terms of size, colour, and time, makes one notice the differences between them; the pose, the clothes, the gaze.
I don’t think of it as 83 individual pictures, I see it as one portrait of 83 individual sittings.
This is David Hockney at his best; confident, relaxed, colourful, witty and experimental.
I left very happy.

4 thoughts on “82 portraits and 1 still life, David Hockney, Royal Academy, 2016 London”

  1. I also like to get in the artist’s head a bit to understand what were obviously conscious choices such as flipping the blue and aqua portions of the background, left, right or forward facing subject, position of hands, arms and legs, etc.

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