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Hail to the prints: Hockney show gives artist's overlooked medium top billing: Exhibition spans lifetime of work, from self-portraits and still lifes to social history

February 5, 2014

Maev Kennedy

A lifetime in 60 years of prints, from a 1954 self-portrait lithograph of a startlingly middle-aged-looking teenage student at Bradford school of art, to a view from three years ago of a rain-streaked studio window, has gone on display at Dulwich Picture Gallery , the first exhibition devoted to the work of David Hockney as a printmaker. The curator, Richard Lloyd , said: "Sixty years is an amazing span for any artist, but very few printmakers have been as endlessly experimental and enthusiastic as Hockney." Lloyd was determined to create a show which for once gives the limelight to the prints, which he regards as a collection of exceptional works. "In any exhibition devoted to a painter and printmaker inevitably the paintings get 95% of the time. If you want to see the prints you ask the way to the loos, because they will be at the back." Lloyd, now head of prints at Christie's auction house, discovered Hockney when he was a porter at Phillips. Carrying in an exceptionally dull bundle of Victorian engravings, he came upon Hockney's very first etching, made in his first year at the Royal College of Art (RCA), a self-portrait with two of his heroes, Walt Whitman and Mahatma Gandhi . He included quotes from the others, but of himself wrote that he was 23 and wore glasses. Lloyd described it as "a wonderfully accomplished, literate and witty work". Nearby there is another hero who might be horrified to find himself on the wall. The letters CR in the etching titled Queen stand for Cliff Richard : other students were putting pinups of sexy girls on their walls, Hockney recalled: "I'm not going to do that - here's something just as sexy". Lloyd has also included the RCA graduation diploma which Hockney engraved when warned that he would be failed if he persisted in refusing to write a final essay - on the grounds that images, not words, were his medium. The etching shows Hockney and the four fellow students also threatened with failure crushed under the weight of the certificate - with vicious caricatures of the college principal, registrar, and head of studies. Hockney graduated with distinction, regarded as one of the stars of his year. After the traumas of the last few years, including a minor stroke and the death by possibly accidental overdose of a studio assistant at his home in Bridlington, east Yorkshire , Hockney has retreated to his Los Angeles home. He is still smoking furiously and working on a large series of portraits. In a downbeat interview with the Sunday Times at the weekend he said of LA: "it used to be the most exciting city in the world but now it's a bore - the anti-smoking stuff is mad, and everyone thinks the same." The prints include the complete set of his series of erotic images of gay love illustrating the poems of Cavafy, regarded as shocking when first published in 1966 but, Lloyd noted, included by the British Museum director, Neil MacGregor , in his Radio 4 series History of the World in 100 Objects. In many prints Hockney has become an accidental social historian: in the Bedlam scene of the 1961 Rake's Progress series, he was intrigued by the dangling cords of the earphones worn by the young New York men. He imagined, puzzled, that they were wearing hearing aids like his father. He discovered that they were plugged into transistor radios, "which you wouldn't have got in England then". Hockney, typically, was not particularly pleased that his entire career as a printmaker was being assembled by a devoted admirer, although his studio lent many of the rare works. "Hockney is not particularly interested in looking back," Lloyd said, "he's always more worried about what he's working on now." Hockney, Printmaker, at Dulwich Picture Gallery until 11 May David Hockney , who has moved back to his Los Angeles home, is reported to be working on a series of portraits Captions: Clockwise from left: Self-Portrait, a lithograph made in 1954 while Hockney was at Bradford School of Art ; Rain, from the 1973 weather series, Artist and Model, from 1973-1974, featuring Hockney with Picasso ; Rain on the Studio Window, from 2009

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Source: Guardian (UK)

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