From Michael Caine to the Yorkshire Wolds, the Artistic Journey of David Hockney

By Martin Dean

Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening sale on 26 June features two striking works by iconic British artist David Hockney. These two contrasting pieces, the 1970s portrait Peter Langan, Michael Caine and Richard Shepherd, Langan's Brasserie, and the later 1990s landscape, Double East Yorkshire, tell a compelling story of two different periods in Hockney’s life. They mark a movement from a concentration on portraits of friends in social settings to an entire decade spent painting the rural landscapes of Yorkshire.

The 1970s is considered Hockney’s most successful decade for portraiture, and saw the creation of a host of masterpieces. Many of the works depict Hockney’s friends, and situations with which he was involved in his day to day life. In Langan’s Brasserie, he captures two of his friends, actor Michael Caine and restauranteur Peter Langan who were engaged in a venture together to launch a new restaurant. Langan's Brasserie would go on to become a popular haunt for artists, actors and musicians and would be considered the first ‘celebrity’ restaurant. Hockney's involvement with the venture was significant; his portrait of Caine and Langan hung in the restaurant and became almost as famous as the venue itself. It was printed on the menus which were so popular that they were regularly stolen.

It was a concurrence of factors which caused something of an urban withdrawal in Hockney, and drew him to spend an increasing amount of time among the landscapes of his youth in Northern England. His mother’s advancing age, and the declining health of his close friend Jonathan Silver, meant that he would return to the region every three months, taking his mother on long drives through the wolds, and driving from Bridlington to Wetherby to visit Silver at his bedside. Silver had for a long time pleaded with Hockney to paint Yorkshire, and as his health worsened, Hockney finally conceded and started to paint, beginning with a small group of 6 works to which Double East Yorkshire belongs. This group of paintings would prefigure the following decade of Hockney’s practice, which saw him create a large number of landscapes. keep returning to magnificence and awe and – might the proper word be reverence? – as responses to all this devastation.
(Laurence Weschler in conversation with David Hockney)

Laurence Weschler, who regularly interviewed Hockney, suggested that the sense of spirituality and awe in his landscapes is a subliminal response to the deaths of many of his friends during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s. It’s notable that we see Hockney turn away from the socially situated portraits of the 1970s, documenting his social life in London and LA, to a period of reflection among the landscapes of Yorkshire. In many ways these works are both a pause for reverence as much as they are a recognition of roots, and the reality of mortality.

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