Major exhibition of early works by Alan Davie and David Hockney on view at The Hepworth Wakefield

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Major exhibition of early works by Alan Davie and David Hockney on view at The Hepworth Wakefield
Alan Davie, Cross for the White Birds, 1965.

WAKEFIELD.- The Hepworth Wakefield is presenting a major exhibition of early works by Alan Davie (1920 – 2014) and David Hockney (b. 1937) that explores creative convergences between these major figures of post-war British painting in the years spanning 1948 to 1965.

In 1958, Alan Davie held his first retrospective exhibition at the former Wakefield Art Gallery. It went on to tour nationally, including to the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London – an iteration of the exhibition that is often cited as Davie’s ‘break-through’ moment. A young David Hockney, who had recently graduated from Bradford College of Art, visited the Wakefield exhibition and saw Davie talking about his work. This encounter was a pivotal influence on Hockney’s artistic development, offering early exposure to large-scale colourful abstract painting more commonly seen at the time in the small black-and-white reproductions of art magazines. Paintings that featured in Davie’s 1958 retrospective at Wakefield Art Gallery, including the large-scale 3-metre-long painting Creation of Man (1957), have been brought together again for the first time in decades to recreate the power of their impact.

Shortly after Hockney’s encounter with Davie he moved to London to take up a place at the Royal College of Art. Here he discarded realist figurative painting, as Davie had done, in favour of colourful, gestural works that combined abstraction with poetic text and symbolism. The exhibition brings together around 45 paintings, collages and drawings by Davie and Hockney. It traces the parallel paths of these key figures of post-war British painting to reveal shared preoccupations with passion, love, sex and poetry as their work oscillated between figuration and abstraction.

An introductory gallery presents figurative works made by both artists at the start of their careers, including self-portraits produced when Hockney and Davie were 16 years old. Self-portraits and photographs throughout the exhibition show the development of each artist’s public persona at a time when contemporary art was becoming a central part of popular culture – artists appeared in films, were interviewed on television and featured in the new colour Sunday supplements. Both artists cultivated distinctive looks, exploring differing but connected notions of masculinity and identity. Both shrugged off labels, Davie refusing to be dubbed an ‘Abstract Expressionist’, and Hockney similarly eschewing the term ‘Pop artist’.

Themes of poetry, love and eroticism explored by both artists are examined through paintings including Hockney’s celebrated We Two Boys Together Clinging (1961) and Davie’s Glory (1957). The visitor can see how both artists pushed and tested the painted surface, often incorporating coded symbolic text and abstracted figures to create new visual languages and passionate painterly expressions. The exhibition also explores work from the 1960s when both artists combined interests in non-western culture with contemporary influences including American abstract painting and advertising, creating bold and graphic works such as Davie’s Cross for the White Birds, 1965 and Hockney’s Arizona, 1964.

Simon Wallis, Director of The Hepworth Wakefield said: “This major exhibition will allow us to explore the creative journeys of two of the most remarkable British painters through a selection of their powerful early works. It will also allow us to shine a light on the ambitious curatorial foresight of the former Wakefield Art Gallery which, in a time of post-war austerity when traditional practices were overwhelmingly the norm, presented a programme designed to make the gallery a beacon for new contemporary art. The gallery helped boost Davie’s career by organising an inspirational and pivotal show that played a part in motivating a young David Hockney to develop his own artistic voice. At The Hepworth Wakefield we aim to continue this legacy of supporting contemporary artists and inspiring young people. Alongside this exhibition we will present the first solo show in a European institution of an exciting young painter, Christina Quarles, providing a fascinating dialogue with this important moment in British painting.”

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