Love Painting oil on board 90.7 x 60.1 cm. (35 3/4 x 23 5/8 in.) Painted in 1959
PROVENANCE: Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner, July 1981
EXHIBITED: Saltaire, Salts Mill, Gallery 1853 Manchester, Whitworth Art Gallery, Hockney to Hogarth: A Rake's Progress, 6 October 2012-3 February 2013
David Hockney arrived in London in September 1959 having been accepted to study at the famous Royal College of Art. With recent alumni including such celebrated names as Frank Auerbach, Peter Blake and Bridget Riley, Hockney had the ideal platform to establish himself as a major force in the capital during what was an evolving time. The chains of post-war austerity that bound Britain during the early 1950s were being loosened and a creative positivity emerged.
Ideals of the 'American dream' with all it promised and the radical abstract expressionist movement led by Jackson Pollock was a powerful draw. Hockney had seen Pollock's 1958 exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery which provided a stark contrast to the traditional methods he had been exposed to in his earlier years at the Bradford College of Art. Recollecting his time there he has commented, 'I had to unlearn everything I'd learned at Bradford, because they didn't really deal with modern art, and that was something I had become aware of' (David Hockney quoted in Christopher Simon Sykes, Hockney: The Biography, Volume 1, 1937-1975, Century, London, 2011, p.65). Hockney was also in esteemed and challenging company with the likes of Londoner Allen Jones and the talented American ex-serviceman Ronald Brooks Kitaj as his colleagues.
If Jackson Pollock and abstract expressionism was a particular focus for students such as Peter Phillips and Derek Boshier, the work of Alan Davie felt a little closer to home for Hockney who was still craving forceful direction. Davie had been appointed Gregory Fellow at the University of Leeds whilst Hockney had been in Bradford and had also received a retrospective at the Wakefield City Art Gallery in 1958. Davie's spontaneous abstract style, honed in the early 1950s, combined symbols and mysticism to create dramatic effect. Love Painting and other works of its type that were completed by Hockney over the winter of 1959-60 clearly demonstrate this influence with the use of forms, colour and graffiti style application. Few of these paintings survive (Erection and Growing Discontent being two examples) with several having been either destroyed or painted over owing to a lack of hardboard. Hockney remembers that 'I did a few pictures...that were based on a kind of mixture of Alan Davie cum Jackson Pollock cum Roger Hilton' (op.cit, p.68).
The present work precedes the recorded series of 'Love Paintings' (1960-61) that Hockney would go on to produce. These abstract compositions were inspired by sexual experience in London and incorporate words and phrases. Similar in structure to Love Painting, the first two contain a large red phallic shape positioned at the bottom edge with 'Love' clearly written. Love Painting has recently been on loan to Salts Mill, Saltaire and the Whitworth Art Gallery's exhibition, Hockney to Hogarth: A Rake's Progress. The work offers a rare insight into a critical stage in Hockney's development as he absorbs the influences around him to establish the self confidence that was required to bridge the gap between his early years and mature style.