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David Hockney exhibition to make a big splash at Belfast's MAC

First significant exhibition in Ireland of work from pioneer of 1960s Pop Art movement is a real coup for the city, writes Ivan Little

Published 28/05/2016

“Self Portrait” 1954
“Self Portrait” 1954

Officials from Belfast's MAC arts centre have pulled off a major coup by announcing plans for a new exhibition by David Hockney, one of the world's most famous painters.

It comes long before prestigious galleries in Great Britain arrange events to mark the 80th birthday of the pioneer of Pop Art in the 1960s.

“Le Plongeur Paper Pool 18 (1978)” by David Hockney
“Le Plongeur Paper Pool 18 (1978)” by David Hockney

The exhibition of 61 of the Bradford-born artist's pieces will be the first large showing of his work on the island of Ireland.

The show, called David Hockney: I draw, I do, will open in August and will feature work from his student days up to more recent pieces, including experimental ones drawn on an iPad.

Staff at the MAC are confident the exhibition will attract thousands of visitors to their base at St Anne's Square, which hosted a similarly ground-breaking Andy Warhol show three years ago.

"We were delighted with how many people came through our doors that time (for the Warhol exhibition," said the MAC's curator Hugh Mulholland, who has been trying to arrange the latest show for some time. "We are certain that the Hockney exhibition will be just as successful.

"I have been in contact with Hockney's people for the past couple of years, which have been a very busy period for him ahead of a number of high-profile shows in America and in England. We are thrilled to have gotten it all together."

London's Tate Britain will next year stage the most extensive retrospective of Hockney's work ever held in an exhibition organised for his birthday. A number of other venues across the world will hold similar events.

The MAC liaised with the Cartwright Hall Art Gallery in Bradford with a view to borrowing his earliest works.

Hockney, who is known not only for his painting but also for his printmaking, photography and more, spent his formative years at Bradford Regional College of Art in the 1950s.

“Margaret Hockney” 2008
“Margaret Hockney” 2008

Many of the pieces in the MAC exhibition will be from that era, including rarely seen anatomical and observational drawings and graphite portraits.

"They are a unique insight into early Hockney and the importance of his drawings," Mr Mulholland told this newspaper.

"It's always fascinating to see very early work by an artist, and in Hockney's case the clarity of line and confidence of his drawings when he was only in his teens are remarkable.

David Hockney
David Hockney

"But we will also have examples of how he has been pushing back the boundaries of his practice, using new technologies like the iPad, which he used to develop a series of portraits of his family and friends."

Another first for the MAC, which has been loaned a number of pieces from private collectors for the exhibition, will be the display, side-by-side, of two of Hockney's depictions of the same subject, Bolton Junction, from around 1956.

"They've never been shown together before," said Mr Mulholland, who also singled out works including the Paper Pools series and The Plunger as must-sees in the upcoming event.

The director of arts development at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Noirin McKinney, said her organisation was pleased to be supporting the exhibition by Hockney, who she also described as one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century.

"He was also an important artist in the 1960s Pop Art movement, and this exciting, significant exhibition will inspire many more people to come to visit Belfast," she added.

The title of the exhibition comes from an answer that Hockney gave to a question from designer Paul Smith, who asked him if he still drew in the traditional way, as he did when he was a young man.

Hockney said: "Yeah, I draw, I do. From the age of 16 to the age of 20, all I did was really draw... because I was at the art school in Bradford, and in Bradford you could be in the school from nine in the morning to nine at night... so I drew for four years."

In the interview, Hockney also expressed concerns that modern art colleges tended to avoid concentrating on teaching students how to draw.

"That seems a bit mad to me," the artist warned, "(because)drawing is going to be needed in the future."

Hockney, who has split his time between Los Angeles and Yorkshire in recent years, is still working on an almost daily basis.

And according to Mr Mulholland, he is still constantly challenging himself by using new media and techniques.

"His iPad portraits are stunning, and we will have them on display alongside his pencil portraits from his student days," he said, adding that the exhibition was only one part of the MAC's plans to bring the world's best-known artists to Belfast.

"We intend to have exhibitions by major international figures, as well as less established artists, and to punctuate our programme with people that we know have a mass appeal," he said.

"The Warhol exhibition in 2013 introduced a whole new audience to the MAC, and we are keen to engage with them again.

"(We are also keen) to connect with people who may only occasionally come into contact with the more cutting-edge contemporary work that we show.

"I know people from here visit the big galleries like the Tate and the Royal Academy in London when they are over there, but we want them to see significant work here on their own doorsteps too."

The Hockney exhibition opens on August 19 at the MAC and is free to visit. For more information, visit themaclive.com

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