The Old Guitarist from "The Blue Guitar"
1977

The Man with the Blue Guitar

Hockney continues to work on images to accompany the book-length poem, The Man with the Blue Guitar (1937), by modernist poet Wallace Stevens (American, 1879–1955), recommended to him by Henry Geldzahler on Fire Island the previous summer. After a series of ink drawings, Hockney progresses [NESTED]into colored etchings, a technique he learned in Paris working with Aldo Crommelynck, Pablo Picasso’s printer; Hockney this time collaborates with Maurice Payne at Petersburg Press. They are published as The Blue Guitar: Etchings by David Hockney, who was inspired by Wallace Stevens, who was inspired by Pablo Picasso, both as a print portfolio and a book. 

The Blue Guitar, Frontispiece from "The Blue Guitar", 1976
The Blue Guitar, Frontispiece from "The Blue Guitar", 1976

When I first read The Man with the Blue Guitar, I wasn’t quite sure what it was about, like all poems like that, but I loved the rhythms in it and some of the imagery, just the choice of words is marvelous. Then, when I read it out loud, I loved it even more, because I got the music that it has.

The Blue Guitar, Frontispiece from "The Blue Guitar"
The Old Guitarist from "The Blue Guitar"
A Tune from "The Blue Guitar"
It Picks Its Way from "The Blue Guitar"
Franco-American Mail from "The Blue Guitar"
Parade from "The Blue Guitar"
Discord Merely Magnifies from "The Blue Guitar"
The Buzzing of the Blue Guitar from "The Blue Guitar"
In a Chiaroscuro from "The Blue Guitar"
Figure with Still Life from "The Blue Guitar"
Made in April from "The Blue Guitar"
A Picture of Ourselves from "The Blue Guitar"
The Poet from "The Blue Guitar"
Etching is the Subject from "The Blue Guitar"
Tick It, Tock It, Turn It True from "The Blue Guitar"
I Say They Are from "The Blue Guitar"
On It May Stay His Eye from "The Blue Guitar"
A Moving Still Life from "The Blue Guitar"
Serenade from "The Blue Guitar"
What Is This Picasso? from "The Blue Guitar"

The etchings themselves weren’t conceived as literal illustrations of the poem, but as an interpretation of its themes in visual terms. Like the poem, they’re about the transformations within art as well as the relation between reality and the imagination, so there are pictures within pictures and different styles of representation.

Blue Guitar: Koh-I-Noor
Colors and Shadows (Study for 'The Blue Guitar')
Running Waiter in Café (Study for 'The Blue Guitar')
Things as they are above a Blue guitar (Study for 'The Blue Guitar')
Running Colors with Brick Mountain (Study for 'The Blue Guitar')
Study for 'The Blue Guitar'
Serenade

Paintings of paintings

Stevens’s meditation on Picasso’s painting The Old Guitarist (1903–04) leads Hockney to paint additional reflections in his London painting studio, resulting in Model with Unfinished Self Portrait, which shows Gregory Evans lying asleep in front of Self Portrait with Blue Guitar.

Model with Unfinished Self Portrait, 1977

My self portrait, which was not finished at the time, was leaning against the wall of my London studio. Gregory posed on a bed in front of it and a great deal of his figure was painted from life. That gave it a kind of power. It looks as though it’s a painting of two completely different kinds of space. It seems as if there’s a stage behind Gregory with a curtain. The curtain has been pulled back and there I am, about to draw a guitar.

Gregory Evans posing in the studio
Self Portrait with Blue Guitar, 1977

Looking at Pictures on a Screen

Hockney’s paintings of paintings are crescendoing in 1977. Looking at Pictures on a Screen features Henry Geldzahler peering at reproductions, hung on a folding screen, [NESTED]of masterpieces from the National Gallery, London.

Study for 'Looking at Pictures on a Screen', 1977
Study for 'Looking at Pictures on a Screen', 1977
Looking at Pictures on a Screen, 1977
GA-066 p.19
Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott posing in front of "Looking at Pictures on a Screen"

Return to Powis Terrace

He is painting again at his old residence at Powis Terrace, in a more spacious studio he has recently built out to better accommodate his all-consuming artistic practice and social life. He is able to complete My [NESTED]Parents, absenting himself from this second take on My Parents and Myself begun in 1975 and painted over in 1976. In the Observer, William Feaver writes: “Mannered though this painting may be, it is neither jokey nor sub-Ingres, but devoted and altogether fine.” 

My father could go to the hospital every day for a few hours, but he wasn’t used to sitting and talking to her for a few hours every day at home. He would be doing something, my mother would be doing something else. It was then I noticed that people communicate in other ways, it’s not just talking, especially people who know each other well. They’d been married 45 years, and if you’ve been living with somebody for 45 years, you know a lot about the face, the little actions, what they mean …. I decided there was a subject there I somehow wanted to try to deal with.

My father could go to the hospital every day for a few hours, but he wasn’t used to sitting and talking to her for a few hours every day at home. He would be doing something, my mother would be doing something else. It was then I noticed that people communicate in other ways, it’s not just talking, especially people who know each other well. They’d been married 45 years, and if you’ve been living with somebody for 45 years, you know a lot about the face, the little actions, what they mean …. I decided there was a subject there I somehow wanted to try to deal with.

My Parents, 1977

Nude on the New Review

Hockney is earning gleeful notoriety from his preeminence as a figurative painter: he poses in the nude with R. B. Kitaj for the cover of the January/February [NESTED]issue of the New Review, wherein the pair speak on behalf of a focus on the figure and eschew academicism in art.

Remember this: it is always figures that look at pictures. It’s nothing else. There’s always a little mirror there. On every canvas there’s a little bit of mirror somewhere.

Remember this: it is always figures that look at pictures. It’s nothing else. There’s always a little mirror there. On every canvas there’s a little bit of mirror somewhere.

Hockney and his paintings

Exhibitions

Solo

  • Zeichnungen und Druckgraphik, Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich (Feb 24–Apr 17); catalogue with a text by Christian Geelhaar.
  • Paintings and Drawings, 1961–1975, Galerie Neuendorf, Hamburg (Apr 21–May 20).
  • David Hockney, Getler/Pall Gallery, New York (May 17–Jun 25).
  • Drawings and Prints, Wolverhampton Art Gallery (Oct 1–29).
  • The Blue Guitar, Gallery One, State University, San Jose (Oct 26–Nov 18).
  • New Paintings, Drawings and Graphics, André Emmerich Gallery, New York (Oct 29–Nov 16); catalogue.
  • David Hockney, Galerie Bleue, Stockholm (Oct–Nov).
  • Travels with Pen, Pencil and Ink, Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, Iran.

Group

  • Kunst um 1970: Die Sammlung Ludwig Aachen, Künstlerhaus Wien (Mar 8–Jun 12); catalogue.
  • Recent Acquisitions: Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture, Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles (May 18–20).
  • Documenta 6, Kassel (Jun 24–Oct 2); catalogue.
  • Contemporary British Prints, Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago (Jun 25–Jul 25).
  • Hayward Annual, Hayward Gallery, London (Jul 20–Sep 4); catalogue.
  • Englische Kunst der Gegenwart, Künstlerhaus Bregenz (Jul 23–Oct 30); catalogue.
  • Artists’ Sets and Costumes, Philadelphia College of Art (Oct 31–Dec 17); travels to Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, NY (1978); catalogue.