- Jackie Mallon |
Master painter David Hockney has been a menswear style icon for 50 years with his playful checked suits, punchy bowties, shock of white hair and perfectly round spectacles. A dandy now in his 80s, his artwork and his wardrobe seem to emerge from the same paintbrush. Silhouette, sartorial detailing and pattern are features of his portraits. The dreamy pastels clashing with saturated brights from his most famous artworks pop up in the mismatched socks he wears, the intersecting lines of his Californian sun-drenched scenes are echoed in his horizontal striped tie worn with vertical striped shirt and windowpane checked blazer. Yet it is Hockney’s importance to womenswear that emerges as a strength of the Morgan Library and Museum’s current exhibition, David Hockney; Drawing from Life. Celia Birtwell has been his muse since the 1960s, and together with London-based fashion designer Ossie Clark, then her husband, she was the subject of the famous 1970/71 painting entitled Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy. With her hair worn in soft blond curls and dressed in a willowy aubergine dress with a pink bow, Birtwell represented bohemian Portobello Road of the era. But she posed for Hockney in hundreds of portraits over the years, a large selection of which are on view in the exhibition, some dated as recently as 2019. After all, writes the Guardian, “A show of Hockney portraits without Birtwell would have felt as wrong as a celebration of Da Vinci without the Mona Lisa.”
Exhibition celebrates designer and artist’s muse
While Birtwell’s former husband, Ossie Clark, is credited with creating the first London runway show, having dressed everyone from The Beatles and the Rolling Stones to Marianne Faithful and Talitha Getty, and also posed for Hockney in a piece entitled, Ossie wearing a Fairisle Sweater, it is Birtwell who is the more enduring figure. She is a living muse of a living artist whose work sells for upwards of 90 million dollars. Most muses of the great 20th century painters died early or lived out their days in despair once discarded. Birtwell is a creative in her own right, a textile designer for fashion and interiors, and still a vibrant presence fueling Hockney’s art. In 2011 she was awarded a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Michael Kors, Yves Saint Laurent and Preen have each cited Hockney’s art as inspiration for their collections while Burberry and Paul Smith have taken the image of the artist himself as their starting point. Hockney’s affinity for color and pattern in oils is legendary but his meticulously drafted drawings, often in monochrome, pack an equally powerful although more intimate punch. The exhibition of approximately one hundred works on paper features only five sitters: his mother, Laura; curator and lover, Gregory; printer and peer, Maurice; himself; and Birtwell dressed in a variety of geometric prints which reveal creative partnerships filled with style, stimulation and curiosity. Depicted in graphite, charcoal, watercolor, and lithograph, Birtwell has naturally changed with the passing of the years, as has the artist. But her presence and their mutual connection remain constant. David Hockney; Drawing from Life is on show at the Morgan Library and Museum until May 30 2021.
Fashion editor Jackie Mallon is also an educator and author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry