It's just like old Times as Hockney makes headline news 50 years on

Arts Reporter

October 12, 2006

Hockney Self Portrait

A PAGE from The Times became the backdrop for one of David Hockney’s early self-portraits because the artist wanted to make a joke with one of the headlines, he said yesterday.

While the news pages of The Times of March 5, 1954, carried stories about the invention of the clutchless gearbox, Hockney was inspired by a headline on page 14 about the fortunes of the wool industry. His untitled textile collage, which shows the artist as a teenager, is mounted on a sheet of newsprint containing the headline “Textile Trade Improves”.

Today the picture will go on public display for the first time at the National Portrait Gallery in London as part of the gallery’s David Hockney Portraits exhibition.

spokeswoman for the gallery said that the textile headline was an intentional reference. “He said he wanted to use The Times because he needed a newspaper page without photographs,” she said. “The reference to textiles is a playful element of the portrait.”

The self-portrait, which shows the artist with his familiar owl-like glasses and mop of hair, is one of the earliest works in the exhibition, which includes another early self-portrait from 1954 that narrowly escaped being painted over. Hockney held the painting in such low regard that he gave it to his first girlfriend — a fellow art student at Bradford School of Art — to paint over with her own work.

Terry Kirkbride, who had a one-year relationship with Hockney in 1957 before the artist came out, painted over another board that Hockney had given her, but she preserved the self-portrait in a garage she used as a studio.

Ms Kirkbride told The Art Newspaper that she was forced to abandon her studies shortly afterwards and left the painting with her landlady. She imagined that it was lost until 1999, when her landlady managed to trace her.

Ms Kirkbride, who lives in Orkney, said of Hockney: “We went out over a period of a year.”

Hockney recalled their relationship as a friendship. “Unlike quite a few of the girls at Bradford Art School, she was not one of the horsey types. She was quite attractive, even if she was a bit flashy.”

Hockney, 69, said yesterday that he was amazed that the painting had survived. “When they showed it to me I said, ‘Well, yes it is mine’. I’d probably given it to someone as a piece of board. That is what you did in those days. The reason you start painting yourself is that you are a cheap model — you’ve always got yourself. I was about 17. I gave it away as a piece of board and someone didn’t paint over it.”•