While touring David Hockney’s latest show at the Royal Academy of Art in London for the first time, I had the opportunity to ask Susie Gault (the Academy’s Head of Communications) how many years it took the 79-year-old artist to complete the 82 large portraits filling the Academy’s main exhibition space. The answer caught me off guard.
“Less than two years. And he was prepared to keep painting right up until we opened the show this summer. We had to ask him to stop because we were out of exhibit space.”
It’s that industrious storm of energy that makes David Hockney: 82 Portraits and 1 Still-life so remarkable. While many men retire from their chosen profession a decade before they flirt with 80 years of age, Hockney rediscovered a passion for portrait painting.
The result was 82 similarly sized and stylized examinations of carefully chosen individuals from Hockney’s life and art career. They all set before a similar, static color background and sit in the same simple chair.
One of the most influential British artists of the 20th century, a major figure in the Pop Art movement of the 1960s and a successful painter and printmaker to this very day, this is the second Hockney show in four years for the Royal Academy (of which Hockney is a member).
While not elaborate in detail, Hockney effortlessly a glimpse of the character of each subject. The portraits unfolded over a course of three or four days on average (as noted in the title of every painting).
London local and travelers still have some time to admire this staggering achievement as 82 Portraits will remain at the Royal Academy of Art until October 2, 2016. After that, there’s no word yet if the collection will remain together in a gallery somewhere, tour as a unified show or split up to be sold or displayed in a number of museums.
Fortunately, art lovers and Hockney fans needn’t worry about that for another week.