David Hockney Shows Us His Sketch Book, Page by Page

Still work­ing and exhibit­ing in his eight­ies, and indeed seem­ing to grow more and more pro­duc­tive with age, David Hock­ney has become a liv­ing sym­bol of what it is to live as an artist. This entails not just mak­ing a lot of paint­ings, or even mak­ing a lot of paint­ings with an imme­di­ate­ly rec­og­niz­able style under a well-cul­ti­vat­ed image. It means con­stant­ly and instinc­tive­ly con­vert­ing the real­i­ty in which one lives into art, an activ­i­ty evi­denced by Hock­ney’s sketch­books. In the video above, the artist him­self shows his sketch­book from 2019, one of the sources of the work in the exhi­bi­tion Draw­ing from Life held last year at the Nation­al Por­trait Gallery. (To accom­pa­ny the exhi­bi­tion, Hock­ney pub­lished a book, also called Draw­ing from Life, which fea­tures 150 draw­ings from the 1950s to the present day.)

Focused on Hock­ney’s ren­der­ings of him­self and those close to him, Draw­ing from Life could run for only a few weeks before the NPG had to close due to the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic. Though filled up the pre­vi­ous year, the artist’s sketch­book depicts a qui­et world of domes­tic spaces and unpeo­pled out­door scenes that will look odd­ly famil­iar to many view­ing it after 2020.

He even appears to have includ­ed in its pages an exer­cise in the style of Gior­gio de Chiri­co, whose aes­thet­ic pre­science about our locked-down cities we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture. The Brad­ford-born Hock­ney’s Amer­i­can city of choice has long been Los Ange­les, and cer­tain of his sketch­es evoke its dis­tinc­tive pock­ets of near-pas­toral qui­etude amid urban mas­sive­ness.

As befits an inter­na­tion­al­ly renowned artist, Hock­ney lives in more than one part of the world. It was at home in the more thor­ough­ly pas­toral set­ting of his native York­shire that he cre­at­ed the draw­ings con­sti­tut­ing My Win­dow, a lim­it­ed-edi­tion artist book pub­lished by Taschen in 2019. Those images don’t come from his sketch­book, or rather, they don’t come from his ana­log sketch­book: he exe­cut­ed them all on his iPhone and iPad, devices whose artis­tic pos­si­bil­i­ties he’s been enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly explor­ing for more than a decade. In this readi­ness to use any medi­um avail­able, he shows more com­fort with tech­nol­o­gy than do many younger artists. And how­ev­er many of them have, under the lim­i­ta­tions of the past year and a half, got used to sketch­ing the view from their bed­room win­dow, Hock­ney was doing it long before.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Hock­ney on Vin­cent van Gogh & the Impor­tance of Know­ing How to Tru­ly See the World

Watch as David Hock­ney Cre­ates ‘Late Novem­ber Tun­nel, 2006

The Sketch­book Project Presents Online 24,000 Sketch­books, Cre­at­ed by Artists from 135 Coun­tries

29 Sketch­books by Renowned Artist Richard Diebenko­rn, Con­tain­ing 1,045 Draw­ings, Now Freely View­able Online

When Our World Became a de Chiri­co Paint­ing: How the Avant-Garde Painter Fore­saw the Emp­ty City Streets of 2020

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Denise Dunn says:

    His ideas in his sketch­book are won­der­ful for me to see like this.
    To see what he has cap­tured visu­al­ly from his pri­ma­ry ideas is absolute­ly won­der­ful. And being remind­ed of his draw­ing styles unfold­ing page by page is tru­ly mag­i­cal.
    Thank you Mr Hock­ney for shar­ing x

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