When Blake painted this portrait of his long-time friend, artist David Hockney (born 1937), Hockney was already a famous figure. Blake’s painting of Hockney is based on a collage of different elements. The main image of Hockney, sporting his trademark blond hair and big spectacles, is painted from a photograph taken by prominent 1960s photographer Michael Cooper. Hockney is posed in front of another Cooper photograph depicting a young man clad in short shorts, lingering in a stairway. This background image, selected by Hockney from a magazine, had been enlarged to make the life-size backdrop. It was well known that Hockney was gay and the presence of this youth probably intended to allude to his sexuality. It also makes reference to Hockney’s own work, since at this time he was regularly sourcing images for his paintings from magazines, making particular use of homoerotic images of young men, such as in Man in Shower in Beverley Hills 1964 (Tate T03074).
While Blake, like Hockney, is recognised as a leading figure in British Pop art, at the time of this painting he was also actively working as a commercial artist, often painting celebrity portraits from photographs for magazine covers. Blake supported the conflation of fine and popular arts, and the influence of both aspects of his work is evident here in the selection and treatment of his subject. The composition is consciously staged and styled like a glossy magazine spread. Blake has added the confetti, balloons and streamers that give a hedonistic party look to the scene from other sources. This use of photographic source material and collaging of disparate elements to create a picture is typical of Blake’s work. Indeed, the technique of photographing a subject against a background constructed from photographs was later famously used by the artist to design the Beatles’ ‘Lonely Hearts Club Band’ album cover, a work also based on photographs by Cooper.
While the ‘Spanish Interior’ of Blake’s title refers to Cooper’s background photograph, it is likely that the setting is indeed Los Angeles. Blake had first traveled to Los Angeles in 1963, and by the time of this painting, Hockney had also developed an attachment to the city where he later settled. The fabricated nature of the Blake’s composition seems an apt recreation of Hollywood’s notorious superficiality. More than 15 years later, Blake again painted Hockney in a Los Angeles setting, alongside himself and fellow British artist Howard Hodgkin in the work ‘The Meeting’ or ‘Have a Nice Day Mr Hockney’ 1981-3 (Tate T03790).
Peter Blake, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London, 1983, reproduced p.54 in colour
Marina Vaizey, Peter Blake, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1986, reproduced p.49
Natalie Rudd, Peter Blake, Tate Publishing, London, 2003, reproduced p.49 in colour