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 Wednesday, 15 January, 2003, 18:06 GMT
Hockney's experiment in watercolour
Hockney's Fjord Komøyvraer
The paper joins become part of the picture

David Hockney is one of Britain's most celebrated - and outspoken - artists with a pedigree of founding the Pop Art movement of the 1960s.

But despite his fame and fortune he has taken up a new challenge and plunged himself into learning a different medium - watercolours.

And Hockney dived in feet first, producing enough material for a full exhibition within a year.

Hockney's portrait of film-makers Tom and Charles Guard
Hockney painted the portraits in one sitting
He took himself off to Iceland and Norway as part of the experiment to experience 24-hour daylight and the effect it would have on his work.

Part of the creative process was to capture scenes which he believes a camera cannot do justice to - despite being a respected photographer himself.

By switching techniques from oil to watercolours, Hockney had to learn a new way of painting, one which does not allow for mistakes.

Sensitive

The 65-year-old says he likes the fact a watercolour can tell the viewer a great deal about the painter - the weight used on a brush, where the brush was taken off the page.

"One of the advantages is that it is sensitive to what you do with your hands," Hockney told BBC News Online.

"There was a certain appeal there that I thought the strokes of the hands should be visible."

And there is evidence of this in his pictures, where a splash of paint and even a thumb print have become part of the work of art.

Hockney also capitalises on the quickness of working in watercolour, compared with the careful preparation required for oil painting.

This difference was borne out when he and close friend Lucien Freud, a renowned slow worker, agreed to reciprocal sittings.

David Hockney
The artist now lives in the US
Freud sat for about four hours, while Hockney sat through an incredible 120 hours to allow his fellow artist to create the perfect portrait.

Because of the time Hockney spent sitting for Freud it made it easier to create his own work as he had looked for so long at his friend's features.

Hockney said: "It was a very different experience to sit for him but he would allow me to smoke and talk otherwise I could not have done it.

Discovery

"Because he works slower than me he talks as well so it was never boring."

Freud's picture will soon go on display in Los Angeles.

Hockney also had to discover a new way to create large, full-length portraits for watercolours.

He opted to split the painting into four using separate pieces of paper and slotted them together when finished.

And there is no attempt to hide the joins, meaning the dividing lines actually become part of the picture.

Hockney's The Maelstrom
Hockney wanted to experiment with different light levels

All of his subjects sat in the same swivel office chairs for their sitting, choosing their own attire, with Hockney seeking out their "individual peculiarities".

His subjects include friends and dignitaries.

A portrait of Glyndebourne opera impresario Sir George Christie and his wife Mary will be on display at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

And a collection of line drawing portraits, featuring among others Barry Humphries, gives Hockney a chance to show off his ability to capture the personality of a face, complete with lines and crevices, that proves more illusive using the medium of watercolour.

As well his experimental landscapes of the lowlands and his double portraits, Hockney's latest exhibition also includes a set of bonsai trees.

These sit uneasily with the rest of the exhibition but do show off the essence of Hockney and his new direction.

Painting on Paper opens at the Annely Juda Fine Art Gallery in Dering Street, London, on 17 January.
Five Double Portraits by David Hockney can be viewed at the National Portrait Gallery in London from 16 January.

See also:

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