David Hockney & Matthias WeischerOne wish

Published in 2005clockTime to read: 4m45s
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Looking forward to a year of privileged access to Hockney through the offices of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, Matthias Weischer – a 32-year-old painter from Germany who specializes in deceptively realistic interiors – had no clear-cut expectations.

by Matthew Gurewitsch 2005
  • David Hockney
    The Mentor
  • Matthias Weischer
    The Protégé

One wish

Matthias Weischer did voice a wish to watch Hockney at work. That was in the early summer of 2004, and, while patently intrigued to be setting out in uncharted waters with a promising young colleague, Hockney gave no immediate assurance that that wish would come true.

First steps

First, Hockney whisked Weischer off for a personal tour of London, where – as in Los Angeles – he maintains a home and studio. First stop: the Royal Academy of Arts, in Piccadilly, for a sneak preview of the Summer Exhibition, an annual blockbuster to which Hockney had contributed six exuberant oversize watercolours from Andalusia.

Next stop: the National Portrait Gallery, steps off Trafalgar Square, where the permanent collection includes Hockney’s portrait of his formidable senior, Lucian Freud, while a retrospective of photographs by the fashionable Cecil Beaton captured Hockney in his gilded youth: the same gentle giant though shyer, a soft wave to his neatly cropped hair, the face round, the spectacles owlish, the eyes discreet, yet missing nothing.

Wish granted

Whether Weischer would have an opportunity to see Hockney at work anywhere along the way remained an open question. But, figuratively speaking, he had already been looking over Hockney’s shoulder for years. Long before the two ever met, Weischer was studying Hockney's canvases, converting Hockney’s motifs for his own, quite different, purposes.

Globetrotting

Like a genie with a young prince to look after, Hockney started plotting magic carpet rides of visual discovery. First, in the summer, they took two whirlwind days in Paris to view Chinese scrolls, Miró, the Musée Picasso, and the Egyptian antiquities at the Louvre, ever on the alert for unexpected correspondences. And the following spring, Weischer spent two weeks as Hockney’s guest at his storybook oasis in the Hollywood Hills, joining his host on excursions to the fabled collections of southern California’s public and private art museums and the opening of Hand Eye Heart, Hockney’s show of his new watercolours from Yorkshire.

At last

Yet in the end, it was in the studio, in silence, that Hockney left his deepest mark, by inviting Weischer to sit (or rather, stand) for a full-length portrait. Here at last, in 20-minute sessions, several times a day, several days running, was the chance Weischer had been waiting for. But wait! Is the sitter not in precisely the wrong spot to see the artist’s hand at work?

Hockney had anticipated this objection by setting up a mirror, allowing Weischer to follow his entire process. “He worked straight from the object,” said Weischer, choosing the terminology natural to an artist. “For the first half-hour or so, he sketched an outline – just a few strokes, but they have to be right. Then he chose single colours for the larger areas: blue for my jeans, grey for the sweatshirt, skin tone for the face and hands. Again, the beginning is something simple: flat colors. But they have to be right. Only then does he get to work on details. You could really sense the concentration.”

A revolution

For the young painter of bare interiors, the experience was a revelation. “My fingers were itching,” Weischer says. “I’m feeling a great urge right now to try my hand at a portrait.” Stand by for a breakthrough.

Extracted from a chapter, written by Matthew Gurewitsch for Unique Voices, Common Visions, a record of the 2004/2005 cycle of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.

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