It says a lot about how revered, loved even, David Hockney is that he can get away with charging £11 for what are, essentially, some quickly knocked out sketches of his mates. Thankfully my friend Kathy is a Royal Academy member and she got me into his 82 Portraits and 1 Still-Life for free. In return I bought her a suspiciously-not-very-black black coffee in Waterstones afterwards.
The premise of the exhibition is that each sitter sat on the same chair in the same room over a period of two to three days while Hockney painted them. This took place from July 2013 through to March this year. Most of the sitters are not exactly household names. There's gallery owners, art dealers, models, jazz musicians, and family members. Possibly the two most well known are John Baldessari, the American conceptual artist (he's the guy with the white beard), and Barry Humphries, famous for playing Dame Edna Everage and Australian cultural attache Sir Les Patterson. You will know him by his kipper tie (that almost IS a kipper) and his pink slacks.
There's enough pink, mustard, and otherwise ill advised coloured trousers here to make you think you're either in a Buckinghamshire golf club or a West London pub. Kathy pointed out the rather unfortunate trouser bulges that a pair of chinos can give a man when he sits down. She also raised issue with what she saw as Hockney's inability to paint feet. True enough many of his sitters have been made to look, literally, like they have two left ones.
Poor old Jacob Rothschild looks like he's been deflated and regular sitter Bing McGilvray looks like he's had the air pumped into him. Part of the pleasure of this exhibition is being rude about people safe in the knowledge they're, on the most part, thousands of miles away and, also, that they're considerably richer than you'll ever be.
With wealth there often comes an idiosyncratic fashion sense. Perhaps having nobody to answer to you slowly drift into wearing whatever the fuck you like. Maybe being the richest and most powerful person in the room means your friends won't tell you when you look silly.
I'm being harsh as there are some snappy dressers amongst Hockney's sitters and, anyway, we're supposed to be here to look at the paintings. The paintings are good. Well, they're okay. But there's really very little to say about them after a while.
There's a still life plonked amongst the eighty-two portraits. I wasn't sure why but it seems one sitter didn't show up and, like Roy Hattersley being replaced by a tub of lard on Have I Got News For You, Hockney decided to paint some fruit instead.
The model Oona Zlamany, below, was one of the portraits that particularly caught our attention. A quick Google image search revealed the real Oona to be very young looking indeed. Hockney, though keeping her fresh of face, has added a few years on and given he some seriously wonky eyes. It's not a criticism of his work but simply an observation that what he's trying to do is eke out some aspect of the sitter's character.
More often than not he manages to do this. They're interesting paintings but in the grand scheme of things it seems unlikely they'll be viewed as anything other than a side dish to the feast that is Hockney's other work. Because of that the RA could probably have knocked a few quid off the price but as the place was rammed they clearly know what they're doing.
I'm ready for my close up now, Mr.Hockney.