20th Century Artists

David Hockney spent the summer of 1976 on Fire Island, New York, with art curator Henry Geldzahler and poet Christopher Isherwood, reading the poems of Wallace Stevens. He especially loved the long poem entitled The Man with the Blue Guitar, which had been inspired by Picasso’s painting The Old Guitarist of 1903. Hockney had admired the works of Picasso for a long time, and he was excited by the way Stevens had woven an allusive and musical text around the theme of the interplay between reality and imagination.

Hockney made a series of drawings inspired by the poem and owing a great debt to Picasso that summer, and then back in London he painted some small canvases continuing the theme. Dissatisfied with these, he decided to make a set of coloured etchings instead which would stress the artist’s freedom of imaginative response to reality and illusion. He gave them the title The Blue Guitar, etchings by David Hockney who was inspired by Wallace Stevens who was inspired by Pablo Picasso, and they were published both as a portfolio and as a book in spring 1977.
The Blue Guitar is a fascinating attempt to demonstrate the power of the imagination to question the world of appearances.

Peter Webb, 2003
(author, Portrait of David Hockney, Chatto & Windus, 1988)


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