Art Collections Online

The Actor

HOCKNEY, David (1937 - )

The Actor

Date: 1964

Media: acrylic on canvas

Size: 166.5 x 167.3 cm

Acquired: 1999; Purchase; with assistance of National Art Collections Fund / Derek Williams Trust

Accession Number: NMW A 13523

The Actor is one of five paintings which Hockney executed during a period of six weeks teaching at the University of Iowa shortly after his move to the USA. It incorporates a range of motifs which have proved central to his oeuvre, including the stage-like setting with curtains, the vase of flowers, the palm tree on the cushion, the patterned sofa and the calligraphic flourishes in the sky. The figure, doubtless observed during the artist's visit to Egypt in September 1963, is based upon a statue of the heretical pharoah Akhenaton (1370-52 BC). Similar heads appear in Hockney's Four Heads (Egyptian) (1963) and Californian Art Collector (1964). During the pharoah's reign artists achieved an unprecedented freedom of expression, and he has since become widely regarded as a modern figure, born long before his time; the opera Akhnaten was composed by Philip Glass in 1984. The range of Egyptian, literary and historical references which occur in Hockney's works of 1961-63 suggest that his choice of this subject was entirely deliberate. In The Actor, the combination of 'colourful abstractions, graphic abbreviations and playfully ironic variations on volumes' are characteristic of the invention and artifice which animates the productions of Hockney's intensely creative period, c 1962-66.

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