David Hockney portrait honouring 86th birthday unveiled

The circular chalk artwork is taken from a photo of the artist at his exhibition David Hockney: Bigger & Closer (Not Smaller & Further Away).

A portrait of British artist David Hockney has been unveiled ahead of his 86th birthday.

Chalk artist Julian Beever, famed for his 3D pavement art, posed with the likeness on Thursday outside Lightroom, a new four-storey venue in King’s Cross, north London, after spending five days creating the piece.

The circular portrait is taken from a photograph of Hockney at his new exhibition, David Hockney: Bigger & Closer (Not Smaller & Further Away) which was launched at Lightroom earlier this year.

Lightroom - David Hockney 86th Birthday Artwork, London, 6th July 2023
Chalk artist Julian Beever at work (Will Ireland/PinPep/PA)

He is depicted wearing his trademark tweed suit, round yellow spectacles and a flat cap with a bunch of daffodils pinned to his jacket, standing in front of his Polaroid artwork titled Gregory Swimming Los Angeles March 31st 1982.

Beever told the PA news agency: “Relative to doing 3D illusions it wasn’t difficult… (they are) physically very demanding. Whereas with this you can see what you’re doing all the time, so compared to those it was a pleasure.”

The artist, who was commissioned for the project after creating a portrait of the late Queen to mark her state funeral last year, said he was a fan of Hockney’s work.

“I did it at A-level many years ago when he was in that 60s, 70s period, swimming pools and things, which I thought were great at the time. It was quite an eye-opener and I did some swimming pool stuff myself, which is kind of influenced by him,” he said.

Tate Britain unveils its national collection of British art
David Hockney’s A Bigger Splash at the Tate Britain (David Hockney/Tate/PA)

The Californian swimming pool became Hockney’s great subject and a setting for a number of his major paintings, including 1967 piece A Bigger Splash.

On Thursday, school children from King’s Cross Academy helped to celebrate the portrait unveiling, posing with multi-coloured cupcakes emblazoned with Hockney’s “Love Life” mantra.

Richard Slaney, chief executive of the new London arts venue, told PA: “He signs his emails off Love Life and that spirit is throughout the (Bigger & Closer) show.”

He added he had been texting Hockney’s nephew about the portrait unveiling, as the artist was occupied painting on a canvas in a field near his home in Normandy, France.

Lightroom - David Hockney 86th Birthday Artwork, London, 6th July 2023
Schoolchildren from King’s Cross Academy join the celebrations (Will Ireland/PinPep/PA)

“The thing about David is he just loves people seeing the show, interacting with the show. He’s always interested to know who we’ve had in and how many people have seen it, we update him regularly,” Mr Slaney said of the Bigger & Closer exhibition.

“There’s a constant stream of his friends and associates, when they come to London they come to see the show, we’re in touch with him letting him know who’s here and who’s not.

“(He’s) really proud of it. (During the) opening couple of weekends he wasn’t here, he was in his house in London, but one of his assistants came up with his iPad and was FaceTiming him from the space, showing him people in the space.

“I should really be FaceTiming him (today).”

The chalk portrait was commissioned to celebrate Hockney’s 86th birthday on Sunday.

Mr Slaney said: “He’s not coming back (to see the portrait) but this is why we did it, we wanted to send him the photos of people enjoying it. He’s not one for a massive blowout party, but it’s nice that we can send him a message.

“He’s 86 but he’s full of energy and optimism, he’s inspiring to work with and fascinated by humans and has got a huge amount of energy.

“He is getting to be an older man now but the vibrancy is still there.”

Beever said: “Usually I do three-dimensional illusions, that’s much more my thing. These big circular portraits are what I used to do before that when I was a street artist.”

He added: “It took five days work. The first two were not full days because of the weather, I did them in a car park near my home.

“The plan was to do the whole thing outside but because of the weather we moved inside, which was much better because I didn’t have to deal with the sun, the wind, the rain… it was a lovely controlled space.”

He said he had to make some “difficult decisions” but he was pleased with the overall outcome.

He said: “I hadn’t fully decided the colour of the border and then I was going to do the lettering in red, which most of the other ones I’ve done back in the old days were, but it looked a little bit kitsch when I started it, too like a showground.

“So I had to make this big decision whether to go from red to blue, and I think I made the right decision because the blue letters sort of linked with the blue swimming water thing inside it.

“I thought I would regret whatever I did but in the end I didn’t, I think I got that lettering right, so that much I’m very pleased with.”

The exhibition David Hockney: Bigger & Closer (Not Smaller & Further Away) has been extended until December 3.

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