Friendships were important to David Hockney. Unlike many artists, Hockney rarely worked on commissioned portraits. Instead, he invited familiar faces like close friends, relatives and colleagues to sit for him, many of whom considered the sitting an honor. Hockney also painted over 300 portraits of himself (also known as self-portraits). Most of his portraits were life-sized or close to life-sized, and in a domestic setting. On canvas, this created a sense of intimacy with the sitter, as if being in the same room.
“I never asked anybody what they thought of the painting. It was what I wanted to get down. These aren’t commissioned portraits. I commissioned them.”
Barry Humphries, 26th, 27th, 28th March 2015 © David Hockney
From 2013 to 2016, Hockney embarked on a series of portraits in his Los Angeles studio, culminating in an exhibition at London’s Royal Academy of Arts titled 82 Portraits and 1 Still-Life. For this project, Hockney chose to paint people whom he had developed relationships with over the past 50 years, including personalities such as John Baldessari, Larry Gagosian, Frank Gehry and Benedikt Taschen. 4 years later in 2020, he held another show of portraits at London's National Portrait Gallery. This time, he didn't paint his subjects but sketched using a walnut-brown ink instead.
One thing that remains consistent in Hockney's work is the vivacity and freshness of the personalities portrayed. At 83 years old, Hockney’s lifelong dedication to painting is inspirational. It takes time to find your raison d'être, but once you do, your work and life can be so fulfilling.