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Hockney’s early prints make London debut ahead of Tate retrospective

British artist turned to draughtsmanship when painting was too pricey

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Just a few months shy of his 80th birthday, the British artist David Hockney and his early etchings become the focus of a show in London that coincides with his much-anticipated retrospective at Tate Britain (9 February-29 May). The Complete Early Etchings 1961-64 at Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert (3 February-10 March) in London’s St James’s charts the rise of Hockney during his formative years whilst he finished his formal education at the Royal College of Art (RCA), began a professional career and won an art-prize trip to America; a country that became a lifelong reoccurring theme in his work.  

An idea hatched between the London gallery and the US-based print dealer Lyndsey Ingram, it is the first comprehensive show to contain an impression of every one of Hockney’s pioneering early prints, which exalt the artist’s natural gift for draughtsmanship in a form he admits to only having adopted as a result of not being able to afford paint while studying.

Beginning with his first-ever etching Myself and My Heroes (1961), where Hockney strikes a portrait of himself aside his idols, the homosexual American poet Walt Whitman and the civil rights leader Mahatma Gandhi, the show establishes him as a young explorative and rebellious artist. Highlights include The Diploma (1962), a satirical self-awarded university qualification (which he was initially denied by the RCA after refusing to complete the written element of his course), and a complete series of A Rake’s Progress (1961-63), Hockney’s semi-autobiographical account of his first time in America based on William Hogarth’s 18th-century series in which a spendthrift heir squanders his fortune upon arrival in London. The show has several previously unseen works from private collections, a generously loaned self-portrait from Tate and a number of later paintings alongside the black, white and red etchings that elucidate the early career of an artist who candidly refuses to talk about it. Having recently set an $11.7m record for a single work at auction, it looks set to be a bumper year for Hockney.