David Hockney



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In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
David Hockney born 1937
Etching and aquatint on paper
Image: 483 x 260 mm
Presented by Klaus Anschel in memory of his wife Gerty 1997


In Self-Portrait of 1962, Hockney creates a multi-layered and ironic self-portrait in etching and aquatint on paper. The etching is signed by the artist and published by Gemini in an unknown print run. According to Hockney, he knows of only three examples of Self-Portrait (communication from Hockney, 1998). The etching dates from Hockney's final year at the Royal College of Art in London and relates to his other graphic work of 1961-62, a period when he used the technique of etching to depict a private iconography related to his homosexuality. His use of drawing and especially a graffiti-like line are typical of his work of the early 1960s. At the Royal College Hockney was inspired by 'Primitive' or Outsider Art, notably the art of Jean Dubuffet (died 1984), which provided him with a model for a new approach to figuration, during the period of dominance of abstract art (Melia, p.16). When Hockney created Self-Portrait in 1962, he was on the fringes of British Pop Art. The etching also indicated another artistic direction towards a highly original and modern style of figurative art.

In a humorous, deadpan tone, Hockney's Self-Portrait carries the title in hand-drawn letters that look as though they have been made with a stencil, 'Self-Portrait', along with the year, '1962', the inscriptions 'It Is Now 1962' and 'Fre. 1751'. A shadowy male nude dominates the image. Ironically this robust male nude bears no resemblance to Hockney, but rather to the type of male figures the artist copied from American muscle magazines. Drawn in almost imperceptible etched lines protruding from the muscle man's body is a large erect penis. Below this another, more humorous kind of phallus is clearly drawn: a mounting knife held by a delicate, apparently gloved hand. A smaller non-muscular male nude, a male 'weakling' who wears glasses, is superimposed on the robust nude. In a 1962 statement on his oil painting of that year entitled Life Painting for a Diploma, Hockney claimed: 'I was threatened with not getting a diploma at all at The Royal College because they said I hadn't done enough life-painting. So I copied that muscle man out of a magazine.' (quoted in David Hockney, Whitechapel, p.26.) The classical male torso on the left suggests another ideal of the male form. In the lower part of the etching, a head wearing glasses is identifiable as Hockney. In his first etching, entitled Myself and My Heroes, made in 1961 at the Royal College, Hockney wrote the following inscription by his self-portrait: 'I am 23 years old and wear glasses.' (reproduced in David Hockney, Whitechapel, P.3, p.78.) Hockney depicted his own awkward self-image within the context of conventional representations of male sexuality, both classical and modern. He related his highly sexualised self-portrait with his artistic self-portrait.

On his introduction to the medium of etching at the Royal College Hockney claimed: 'I started etching there, I think, near the end of my first year and the beginning of my second. In actual fact I started etching there because I hadn't any money. … I hadn't any paint. Someone told me that everything was free in that department so I thought I would try my hand at it.' (quoted in David Hockney, Whitechapel Art Gallery, p.18.) Drawing and printmaking were to form the basis of his future art. After 1962, Hockney no longer drew himself, but the portraits of the people who surrounded him.

Further reading:
Nikos Stangos, ed., David Hockney by David Hockney: My Early Years, London, 1976
David Hockney: Paintings, Prints and Drawings, 1960-1970, exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 1970
Paul Melia, 'The Drawings of David Hockney', David Hockney: A Drawing Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy of Arts, London 1995, pp.15-27

Kathleen Brunner
February 2000

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Display caption

Hockney made this etching a year or so after he began to experiment with printmaking at the Royal College of Art. Etching, he says, appealed to him because the art school supplied free materials at a time when he could not afford to buy paint. Hockney also used this essentially linear medium to combine images and words, creating a kind of pictorial graffiti with coded references to friends and lovers. As Hockney said of such images, 'they were partly propaganda of something I felt hadn't been propagandised as a subject: homosexuality.'

Gallery label, August 2004

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Technique and condition

An etching with aquatint, using a course ground. Printed in black ink on white wove paper, it is signed and dated in the bottom margin. The paper has a watermark 'Handmade' in the bottom margin. Structurally the print is in good condition. The paper has discoloured slightly and there are old paper tape hinges on the verso indicating previous mounting and display.

Calvin Winner
March 1998

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