Hockney's print production by the time that he came to do these two states of Simplified Faces went back twenty years to his first lithographs done in Bradford, though his first etchings date from the Royal College in 1961. In 1973, Hockney had started to experiment with drawing directly on an etching plate with brushes dipped previously for protection in Polycell glue, as shown to him by Maurice Payne, and then learnt sugar lift etching from Aldo Crommelynck in Paris, when he did two prints in memory of Picasso in Crommelynck's studio. Crommelynck showed him a way of doing coloured etchings with a certain directness and spontaneity which Hockney had assumed to be impossible in that medium. Simplified Faces used this new approach in etching and Hockney went on to apply it to lithography. 'Using Aldo's method, you have to draw with coloured pencils . . . because you have to use soft-ground etching techniques'.
Simplified Faces State I by David Hockney
Crommelynck had been Picasso's etching printer for twenty years and Hockney had been interested in Picasso's work since his first mature production, admiring (as he stated in a 1974 interview) 'that kind of freedom as regards form, going from one style to another, exactly as he wished'. Hockney certainly combined different graphic techniques on the same plate in the second etched Picasso portrait Artist and Model (1973-74). It is not surprising then that the images in the plate (in which he experimented with colour etching alongside Picasso's printer, soon after Picasso's death) should resemble Picasso's 1951 bronze Head of a Woman.
However, Simplified Faces contain two further sorts of reference. The notion of modernistic simplification had been mocked by Hockney in titles such as Picture of a Pointless Abstraction Framed Under Glass (1965) and an ironic play with geometric forms and patterns alongside figurative images had been a characteristic of Hockney's early mature paintings, though this had tended to disappear in the work of the late 1960's and early 1970's. The involvement with Picasso's image and memory in 1973-74 heralds a return to a preoccupation with artifice which became clear by the time of the suite of colour etchings entitled The Blue Guitar (1976-77). However, the ironic take on 'simplification' may refer to the manipulation by modernist theory and practice of Cézanne's advice to Bernard to 'treat nature by means of the cylinder, the sphere, the cone'. This rather academic advice to a young painter in the context of a discussion of space and form had been manhandled by modernism to justify geometric abstraction, certainly never Cézanne's intention.
Hockney adds a playful faux-naïf touch to that canonized advice and its artistic progeny. The second art historical reference contained within these prints is deliberate mislabelling, learned from Magritte as a means of undermining the 'common sense' of received wisdom. The demonstrations do not equate with the apparent captions. This is not a pyramid or diamond, a cylinder or a circle. Simplified Faces have the character of trial pieces, but they herald a period of artistic renewal in Hockney's work that occurred in the mid-1970's.
|Measurements:||584 x 546 mm|
|Location:||Arts & Humanities Research Council, Whitefriars, Lewins Mead, Bristol, BS1 2AE. View by appointment; please contact the AHRC's Facilities Manager on 01179 876 500|
|Rights owner:||David Hockney|
|Rights status:||UK HE use only|
|Institution:||Council for National Academic Awards|
|Notes:||Studied at Bradford School of Art between 1953 and 1957. Ed: 30|
On beginning a three-year postgraduate course at the Royal College of Art, London, in 1959, he turned first to the discipline of drawing from life in two elaborate studies of a skeleton before working briefly in an abstract idiom inspired by the paintings of Alan Davie.
He was awarded the Royal College of Art gold medal for his year in 1962.