Nobody Draws It Better Than David Hockney At National Portrait Gallery

David Hockney, National Portrait Gallery ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 51 months ago

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Last Updated 26 February 2020

Nobody Draws It Better Than David Hockney At National Portrait Gallery David Hockney, National Portrait Gallery 4
The man himself in front of works in the show. Copyright David Parry and National Portrait Gallery.

There's something instinctual about drawing. It's something I find myself doing absent-mindedly, whether it be doodling while on my phone or drawing shapes in the condensation on bus windows. When it comes to this universal art form is there anyone better at it than David Hockney? A resounding 'no', is the answer from his latest exhibition dedicated to his drawings at the National Portrait Gallery.

His skill and versatility is demonstrable in a room of drawings of his friend Celia Birtwell. She's drawn realistically while sat in a chair, caricatured in a way that looks a bit like Cruella de Vil and quickly sketched using broad brushstrokes. It's like Hockney can just take up any style of drawing and instantaneously produce work equal to a master who's slaved away at that one particular niche for the past 50 years.

Case in point are his iPad drawings — a medium he's adopted late in life. Watching videos of a time lapse creation on the wall normally means this is the work of a digital native, not a man in his eighties.

An awkward family portrait. Copyright David Hockney, photograph: The David Hockney Foundation

When Hockney turns the mirror on himself it produces some of the strongest works in this show. A collage self-portrait from when he was 17 exposes a gawky teenager. This shy nature continues in a painting of his parents where he's just glimpsed in a mirror — as if he's carefully peeking out from it.

A shirtless self-portrait showing his hairy chest should be all about masculinity, but even in this work his awkward pose dispels any hint of virility — he's unsexy and he knows it. A marked contrast is visible in the tender portraits of his mother, where it's clear from how lovingly she's been drawn that he holds her high regard.

Finally, Hockney has drawn himself facing his inspiration Picasso, sat across a table from one another. It's a fitting work, considering these are two of the best versatile artists in history. It seems timely that they both have major London exhibitions showing on their work done on less obvious mediums. There can be no higher praise for Hockney than to be compared to his hero.

A collage self-portrait as a teenager. Copyright David Hockney. Photo: Richard Schmidt

That's not to say this exhibition is filled with one masterpiece after another — a fair few pieces are wide of the mark — but what all the works do do is come together to tell the story of an artist in evolution. It's almost as if Hockney doesn't mind if they don't all succeed, as long as there's new directions and techniques for him dive into.

For those who loved Hockney's immense Tate Britain exhibition it's important to note this is a very different type of show that's far more introspective and intimate — there's no big works to blow you away, this one's a subtle affair. However, what the two shows do have in common is they both confirm that David Hockney is an artistic genius.

David Hockney: Drawing from Life at National Portrait Gallery is on from 27 February to 28 June. Tickets are £18-20.

Those after a free dose of Hockney should visit the exhibition at his Mayfair gallery Annely Juda Fine Art where there is a smaller selection of his work including one of Ed Sheeran. Until 25 April, free entry.