Major show of David Hockney drawings will trace artist's career

National Portrait Gallery exhibition to include schoolboy self-portraits and new works

Self-portraits that David Hockney made as a teenager in Bradford along with new portraits produced in Los Angeles will feature in a major show devoted to the artist’s drawings.

The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) announced details on Friday of the first major Hockney drawings show for 20 years. The exhibition of about 150 works will position Hockney as one of the master draughtsmen of our times, the gallery said.

At its core will be self-portraits and portraits of four people close to Hockney’s heart: his mother, Laura Hockney, his muse Celia Birtwell, and his friends Gregory Evans and Maurice Payne.

The curators plan to trace the trajectory of Hockney’s practice by showing how he revisited the subjects during his career. The exhibition will feature portraits made in pencil, pastel, ink and watercolour, as well as examples of works he made using apps.

Gregory. Los Angeles. March 31st 1982 by David Hockney
Gregory. Los Angeles. March 31st 1982 by David Hockney. Photograph: Richard Schmidt/David Hockney/PA

Nicholas Cullinan, the NPG director, said Hockney was one of the most internationally respected and renowned artists alive today.

“By focusing on Hockney as a supreme draughtsman and his intimate and revealing sustained depictions of sitters over time – including himself – the exhibition will demonstrate his constant and continuing ingenuity with portrait drawings which reference both tradition and technology,” he said.

There will be examples of portraits he made in the 1980s using a Polaroid camera. The artist said he was drawing with the camera, describing them as cubist depictions of form that paid homage to Picasso.

It was also in the 1980s that Hockney scrutinised himself particularly intensely and the show will have a selection of drawings from a two-month period when he was creating a self-portrait every day.

Among the earliest works will be sketchbooks from Hockney’s art school days in Bradford in the 1950s. The exhibition will include previously unseen early works including working drawings for a pivotal series of etchings, A Rake’s Progress, which he made in the early 1960s after his first visit to the US.

Though Hockney features in the drawings, he said they were not autobiographical. “It is not really me,” he said. “It’s just that I use myself as a model because I’m always around.”

The gallery staged a well-received Hockney portraits show in 2006. The curator, then and next year, Sarah Howgate, said it was a privilege to collaborate on a second show. It will be an “intimate journey in line” that “demonstrates and celebrates the master draughtsman that David Hockney remains to this day”.

Hockney’s current project, inspired by the Bayeux tapestry, is to paint the arrival of spring in Normandy.

• David Hockney: Drawing from life will be at the National Portrait Gallery from 27 February to 28 June 2020


Mark Brown Arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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