Barron recalled picking a pose she thought she could keep: She didn’t want to cross her legs because that would get tiresome. Instead, she placed her hands on her knees. While the first day was a thrill, the second was more physically difficult (plus, Barron notes, you have to wear the same outfit three days in a row). There’s blue tape on the floor to mark where the subject must put her feet. Hockney used to play classical music in his studio, she said, but now that he’s nearly deaf, the room remains silent.
“He starts with charcoal,” Barron explained. “That’s when it’s the most spontaneous. Before the first break, he’d already sketched the head and position of the body. Then he starts right away with the paint. Even before the first break he’d started on my red tunic, the face and hair. The face and hands he kept returning to everyday.”
Corcoran remembered Hockney’s interactions with his assistant Jean-Pierre Gonçalves de Lima, known as JP, as a kind of choreographed dance. JP observed Hockney’s progress, giving him new paints when he needed them. Jars of water, both dirty and perfectly clear, sat on long cabaret tables for when Hockney needed to wash his brush. The artist took midday breaks to rest or smoke or lunch. Barron recalled discussing books and articles they’d read and people they’d seen.
And what does one eat when sitting for a David Hockney portrait? “I think we probably had chicken pot pie,” Corcoran recalled. “Either chicken pie or fish pie, you know, with the mashed potatoes around it. It’s very simple and very good.” The biggest reward, of course, wasn’t the food, or even the honor of being a subject: It was the opportunity to watch one of today’s most inventive living artists at work.