David Hockney 82 Portraits and 1 Still Life exhibition opens at Royal Academy

David Hockney Photo by David Parry/REX/Shutterstock

David Hockney Photo by David Parry/REX/Shutterstock - Credit: David Parry/REX/Shutterstock

David Hockney returns to the Royal Academy with a brand new collection of vibrant portraits


It’s been described as a great recovery. David Hockney’s new exhibition at the Royal Academy called 82 Portraits and 1 Still Life is a series of paintings of family, friends and acquaintances. The Bradford-born international artist had left Yorkshire after the sudden death of an assistant, Dominic Elliot at Hockney’s Bridlington home, to return to his studio in Los Angeles where after a period of deep depression he began to paint again.

‘I had a lot of time to think,’ he told a BBC radio programme. ‘We were pretty miserable, even on the return to Los Angeles.’ But out of his despondency came a spark of hope and the germ of a whole new phase of work. He began painting portraits. ‘After six or seven were done I realised I could go on with this,’ he said.

Over three years Hockney, now 79, completed 82 portraits of people close to him and some he knew just in passing. The first was of his assistant JP which he described as a study in despondency. The new collection is presented at the Royal Academy of Arts in London where it has been celebrated as ‘vibrant, observant and full of life’. It offers an insight into the artist’s life in Los Angeles, his connections to the art world and the people who have crossed his path over the last few years.

Hockney’s subjects – all of whom were personally invited by the artist to sit for him – include friends, family, acquaintances and staff. John Baldessari, Celia Birtwell, Dagny Corcoran, Larry Gagosian, Frank Gehry, Barry Humphries, David Juda and Lord Rothschild are all represented as well as Hockney’s siblings, John and Margaret. Each portrait has been created within the specific time frame of three days, which Hockney describes as ‘a 20 hour exposure’. The portraits are painted on the same size canvas (121.9 x 91.4 cm) with each of the subjects seated in the same chair against a neutral background.

Hockney was born in Bradford in 1937 and attended Bradford School of Art before studying at the Royal College of Art from 1957 to 1962. His reputation was established early, with his work featuring in the Young Contemporaries exhibition in London, 1960; an exhibition seen as marking the arrival of British Pop Art.

He first visited Los Angeles in 1964, settling there in 1979, where he has since produced a large body of work over many decades. In 2012, Hockney produced A Bigger Picture, a collection of work held in the main galleries of the Royal Academy. It showcased vivid landscapes of the Yorkshire countryside which attracted over 600,000 visitors, making it one of the most successful exhibitions in the RA’s history.

The exhibition subsequently travelled to the Guggenheim Bilbao and the Museum Ludwig, Cologne. Hockney was elected a Royal Academician in 1991 and appointed member of the Order of Merit in 2012.

His latest exhibition is curated by Edith Devaney, curator of Contemporary Projects at the Royal Academy of Arts, in close collaboration with the artist.