Furniture features heavily in the British artist’s work. But what are they saying?
There is the joltingly garish floral armchair in an otherwise modernist home; the low-slung glass coffee table; the flamboyance of a huge marshmallow-pink sofa contrasting with the simplicity of a plain wooden kitchen chair. The furniture in David Hockney’s art works is something of a personal fascination.
“He paints the places he knows well, the people close to him – and gets to know each better in the process.”
California Art Collector (1964) has one of the most enjoyable depictions of patterned upholstery. There is a striking juxtaposition between the bold floral armchair and the minimal architecture behind it. A similar chair appears in Domestic Scene: Los Angeles(1963). The chintzy armchair would seem to be transported from Hockney’s working-class Bradford past, rather than being found in modernist America. Sure enough, there is a photograph of a young Hockney, in 1963, with his legs draped over the arm of a remarkably similar chair in his studio.
So, as much as the pieces of furniture in Hockney’s paintings are useful tools, excuses for investigating perspective, pattern and perception, there is another element to them: they are familiar to the artist, representative of Hockney himself. The modern glass table and the nostalgic armchair reflect Hockney as he was in the Sixties: the thoroughly contemporary artist, a poster-boy for swinging London and the down-to-earth Yorkshire lad, too.
Chairs feature heavily in Hockney’s work. Often they have the subject of a portrait in them, but at other times they are the sole subject. Chairs are the subjects of sketches Hockney makes on his travels (Chairs, Mamounia Hotel, Marrakesh, 1971), they feature in his photo collages (Chair, 1985), his innovative Home Made Print series (Office Chair, 1988) and recent photographic drawings (Sparer Chairs, 2014). Vincent’s Chair and Pipe (1988) is an affectionate reply to the famous Van Gogh’s Chair (1888). Hockney says: “I painted my version with reverse perspective. You see this side and then that side, so you are moving. I’ve always loved chairs. They have arms and legs, like people.”
Some of Hockney’s chairs stand out: the Cesca chair by Marcel Breuer features in several of Hockney’s works, perhaps most famously in Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (1970-71). The chair was an engineering innovation that exploited the possibilities of tubular steel. The sitter seemingly floats above the ground. I’d like to think that this playfulness and distortion of reality particularly appealed to Hockney. He employed a different, but very similar, cantilevered tubular steel chair, the MR chair by Mies van der Rohe, (Mies and Breuer were both collaborators and competitors in the 1920’s) in the Portrait of Sir David Webster (1971). Then there is the huge, flamboyant, Art Deco-style pink sofa that dominates the double portrait of Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott (1969). In many of Hockney’s portraits the seats are deliberately and democratically nondescript. But here the furniture is undoubtedly chosen to be suggestive of the larger-than-life personality of the seated Geldzahler, a major figure in contemporary art. Lastly, and in stark comparison, there is the simple foldable wooden studio chair that features in the wonderful My Parents (1977) and in multiple recent photographic drawings and paintings such as Studio Interior #2 (2014) and many, many, other drawings, paintings and photographs between. This humble wooden chair is the kind of thing that gets brought out when there is one extra for dinner. Habitat made a similar design in the Sixties. It is an unremarkable piece of furniture and yet Hockney has never tired of depicting it. In some cases, the chair is clearly not intended to be the focus of the viewer’s attention, and yet Hockney shows it honestly and truthfully, never tempted to replace it with something more impactful. On other occasions, the chair becomes the focus of a painting, and Hockney depicts it in a new style of work, giving it his full attention.
Of portraiture, Hockney said: “If you draw someone you don’t know, you struggle for a likeness – you don’t know how they should appear.” The same might be true of inanimate objects too. Domesticity, familiarity and intimacy run through Hockney’s work. He paints the places he knows well, the people close to him – and gets to know each better in the process. Hockney’s furniture is subjected to the same scrutiny. He paints these seemingly arbitrary objects with intimacy and purpose.
Source –Kvadrat Blog