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Interview with Richard Lloyd, Curator of Hockney, Printmaker exhibition

23 January 2014 | Charlie Kenber

“If someone just liked looking at his flowers, he’d be totally fine.”

Ahead of the opening of a new exhibition of David Hockney’s prints at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, we chatted to the curator, Richard Lloyd…

London Calling: How did you go about curating the exhibition?

Richard Lloyd: There are six rooms in the Dulwich temporary exhibition space, and at first I wanted each one to show a different subject, such as still life, portraits etc., but the more I thought about it, the more it occurred to me that Hockney has followed two paths in his printmaking career, one has been his use of etching, the other his use of lithography – he has switched back and forth between the two over the years, but I really wanted to show how his use of these two techniques has developed. So the first three rooms concentrates on his etchings, from the early 60s to the late 90s and the following three rooms look at his lithographs from the early 50s to the late 80s. The show ends with two of his printed computer drawings, which point in the direction he’s moving in at the moment.

LC: Where did the idea for the exhibition come from?

RL: It started over a lunch I had with the late Mark Glazebrook about four years ago. Mark was responsible for Hockney’s first retrospective at the Whitechapel in 1970, and we both speculated on what a similar show would look like now, and whether David’s prints would be given the prominence they deserved. The idea of putting on a show that concentrated on Hockney’s print oeuvre took hold and we began planning. I am only sorry that Mark didn’t live to see it take place. I hope he would have been pleased at the selection I’ve made. Given that David has made more than 400 prints, and there is only space for 100, I have had to leave out lots of things that I would have loved to have included.

LC: Who do you think Hockney’s prints will appeal to?

RL: David’s real talent is that he can produce work that can be read on a totally superficial level and yet have layers of complexity underneath – so that someone who has never seen his work, or even been into an exhibition before, could come and be delighted by his wonderful still-lifes of flowers. And David wouldn’t mind. He’s not one of those artists who demands to be taken seriously all the time, by everyone. If someone just liked looking at his flowers, he’d be totally fine. But he also operates on a deeper level. His printed work is full of allusions to other artists’ works – he is extremely knowledgeable about art history and theory. If you want to dig deeper it is often astonishing how much thought has gone into a seemingly simple picture. So, the short answer to the question is – Hockney’s prints should appeal to very broad range of people. Broader than the audience for most artists.

LC: Do you have any particularly favourite images in the exhibition?

RL: I suppose it would have to be the early etchings he did at the Royal College. He was a young student, bursting with energy and talent. Very cheeky too. The Rake’s Progress set is wonderful, charting his first trip to NY, which made a huge impression on him. However, if I had to choose one image it would be Diploma. It came about because the Royal College threatened to prevent him from graduating because he had refused to complete the written course work – he wanted to paint, so why should he waste time writing about painting? – so he went ahead and etched and printed his own Diploma. He really didn’t care. It is a very witty object, and really ridicules those running the college. In the end they gave in, and he graduated at the top of his year.

LC: For you, how important has Hockney been for recent British art history?

RL: I think judgments like this are very hard to make whilst an artist is still alive and working. You need the passage of time to see how influential they are. Some of Hockney’s work has been him wandering off on tangents that perhaps are for him alone and won’t see too many others following him, but there are other things that I think will be very influential. Perhaps one of the most important is that he has pursued traditional subjects such as still-life, portraiture and landscape, and made them relevant and worthy of attention of a new generation of artists.

LC: What are the main differences between Hockney’s early and late prints? Does the exhibition illustrate this development?

RL: It doesn’t, because Hockney hasn’t developed in a linear fashion. He hasn’t worked slowly throughout his career towards a single goal. He has followed lots of different paths over the years. The conclusion I think most people will come to as they leave the show, looking at the printed computer drawings, is that Hockney’s creativity and his desire to engage with new techniques and technologies, is as active now as it has been at any time over the last 60 years. Which is remarkable.

Want to dig a little deeper? Why not sign up to ‘David Hockney: Master Print-Maker’, a three-day course at Christie’s Education to coincide with the exhibition! Further details available here.

Hockney, Printmaker is on display at Dulwich Picture Gallery from 5th February – 11th May. Admission £6 – £11. Further information available here.

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