Looking at how artists employ technique in relation to subject matter

David Hockney

Before this search for Hockney’s drawings on the internet I thought of him as the man that painted swimming pools and that couple with the cat. It’s been really interesting looking at all I could find.

In his drawings of people, and I can find no exception to this, there is always space, a blank, something left out. Sometimes there is such economy it is just a line, and because of that economy the line becomes so important.

 

It’s wonderful to follow, a simple line that captures so much. It makes me wonder how he did it – did he work in pencil in case he made a mistake, did he just repeat until he got it right, or is he such a tremendous draughtsman that he just gets its right. There are no corrections.

These line drawings don’t look flat, however, there is always something in clear perspective to give it dimension: the bed, the armchair, the table.

In some of these line drawings he has added a touch of cross-hatching to depict deep shade, though where he does and doesn’t do this seems arbitrary.

In others he has drawn part of his subject in a more conventional way, with shading, while the rest remains line only. And other times it looks as though he has carved the drawing up and allowed some parts to be filled while others are left blank. It gives the effect of a drawing that has been partly coloured in, then abandoned. And yet it works – perhaps the room is bathed in light, we are partly blinded, or perhaps this is how we look at someone – the periphery is blank.

In some of his portraits the legs will fade to nothingness, or just a dress has colour or print. I’m less keen on these sketches – it looks as is he has used the style of fashion illustration that comes on those flimsy envelopes of dress-making pattens.

When Hockney draws other subjects, however – rooms, countryside – for the most part he fills the entire page with his marks. Maybe because every part of the scene holds the same importance, so he wants everything in focus. When we look at a landscape we scan the whole, whereas when we look at a person we zoom in, we’re not looking at their lower leg, the table behind them.

For these drawings he seems to make his marks in a kind of patchwork, a different set of marks for each piece of the scene.

I prefer his most minimal line drawing. I get a feeling from these that he knows his sitter so well, he has described their essence in that simple line, there is no need to embellish, and if he did it would just detract.

I found a short recording from Front Row in which Richard Cork describes the line as being at the centre of Hockney’s multi-faceted art – his ‘mastery of the line’.

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