David Hockney, ‘I Say They Are’, Joanna Bryant & Julian Page

David Hockney- The Blue Guitar

David Hockney spent the summer of 1976 on Fire Island, New York, with art curator Henry Geldzahler and poet Christopher Isherwood, reading the poems of Wallace Stevens. He especially loved the long poem entitled The Man with the Blue Guitar, which had been inspired by Picasso’s painting The Old Guitarist of 1903.
Hockney had admired the works of Picasso for a long time, and he was excited by the way Stevens had woven an allusive and musical text around the theme of the interplay between reality and imagination. Hockney made a series of drawings inspired by the poem and owing a great debt to Picasso that summer, and then back in London he painted some small canvases continuing the theme. Dissatisfied with these, he decided to make a set of coloured etchings instead which would stress the artist’s freedom of imaginative response to reality and illusion.
He gave them the title The Blue Guitar, etchings by David Hockney who was inspired by Wallace Stevens who was inspired by Pablo Picasso, and they were published both as a portfolio and as a book in spring 1977.
In his introductory note, Hockney wrote: The etchings themselves were not conceived as literal illustrations of the poem but as an interpretation of its themes in visual terms. Like the poem, they are about transformations within art as well as the relation between reality and the imagination, so these are pictures within pictures and different styles of representation juxtaposed and reflected and dissolved within the same frame.
The disparate images are not easy to read as interpretations of the poet’s themes, but what holds them together is the continual reference to the example of Picasso. The etching Figures with Still Life shows a man measured up for perspective watching a cubist woman playing a mandolin. The man was taken from a photograph of Chico Marx and the woman from a Picasso painting of 1909. Both figures are just as real or unreal as each other. In Etching is the Subject, a pen draws Hockney’s friend Gregory Evans and leaves blobs of ink behind. The pen and the portrait are illusions but the blobs are real. What is this Picasso? has a realistic curtain drawn back to reveal a stylised head which copies Picasso’s 1937 portrait of Dora Maar. And in A Picture of Ourselves, a woman copied from a classical sculpture in a plate from Picasso’s Vollard Suite of 1933 contemplates two images of herself, one a surrealist sculpture from another Vollard plate and the other a bestial image in a mirror derived from Picasso’sTwo Nudes on a Beach of 1937.
The Blue Guitar is a fascinating attempt to demonstrate the power of the imagination to question the world of appearances.

  • Peter Webb Extract from Portrait of David Hockney, Chatto and Windus 1988
    Hockney also followed in Picasso’s footsteps on another level; through his choice of new etching techniques. Hockney was living in Paris between 1973 and 1975 and worked extensively during this period at the Atelier Crommelynck where Picasso had made prints during the final two decades of his life. Aldo Crommelynck introduced Hockney to both the use of the sugar-lift technique, which enabled him to recreate brush marks on the etched plate, and the use of a single plate for multi-coloured etchings rather than having to register separate plates for each colour. Both of these techniques were revelations for Hockney and proved essential to the genesis of his ‘Blue Guitar’ prints.

‘The Blue Guitar’ portfolio comprised twenty etchings and aquatints all drawn directly onto copper plates and etched by David Hockney during 1976 and 1977. They were each printed in up to five differently coloured inks using just one plate onto Inveresk mould-made paper. The proofs were pulled by Maurice Payne and the editions then printed from steel-faced plates in London and New York. ‘The Blue Guitar’ was published in a signed and numbered edition of 200 together with 37 artist’s proofs by Petersburg Press in October 1977.

About David Hockney

A pioneer of the British Pop Art movement in the early 1960s alongside Richard Hamilton, David Hockney gained recognition for his semi-abstract paintings on the theme of homosexual love before it was decriminalized in England in 1967. In We Two Boys Clinging Together (1961), red-painted couples embrace one other while floating amidst fragments from a Walt Whitman poem. After moving to California at the end of 1963, Hockney began painting scenes of the sensual and uninhibited life of athletic young men, depicting swimming pools, palm trees, and perpetual sunshine. Experimenting with photography in the mid-1970s, Hockney went on to create his famous photocollages with Polaroids and snapshot prints arranged in a grid formation, pushing the two-dimensionality of photography to the limit, fragmenting the monocular vision of the camera and activating the viewer in the process. A versatile artist, Hockney has produced work in almost every medium—including full-scale opera set designs, prints, and drawings using cutting-edge technology such as fax machines, laser photocopiers, computers, and even iPhones and iPads.

British, b. 1937, Bradford, United Kingdom, based in Yorkshire, United Kingdom