Edith Devaney comments:
―Working with Hockney on his 2012 Royal Academy exhibition gave me the opportunity to get to know him well, and to speak to him at length about his work. Sitting for a portrait and spending a very concentrated time with him in the studio, however, revealed to me much more about his practice. His studio manager, Jean - Pierre Gonçalves de Lima, undertook the considerable task of scheduling all the portraits over a period of over two years.
Edith Devaney was painted twice, first in September 2015 and then again in February 2016; the latter portrait is in the exhibition, as a result of a process of editing out a number of portraits of sitters who had been painted more than once. The sitters‘ attire was left to them to decide; Hockney wanted them to have the chance to express their characters. The pose and the position of the chair were similarly determined by each sitter finding a position that was both comfortable and natural, although Hockney did encourage a variety of different orientations for the chair.
Edith Devaney relates:
―The second time I sat was towards the end of the project, and I‘d had the opportunity to study the poses and dress of those who had gone before me. The only instruction I‘d had was to tie my hair back; half way through painting the first portrait, Hockney had determined that this would make a better image. Many female sitters had dressed up for their portraits, so as a contrast I decided to wear more casual clothes. The session began at around nine o‘clock in the morning. The studio was very ordered, with the primed canvas ready on the easel and the paints, brushes and palettes all arranged on a table to the right of the easel. The platform with the chair was to the left, in front of the easel. Sitting on the chair I tried a variety of positions, then leaned forward with my head supported in my hand, in what felt like a natural and familiar position. Hockney liked it, hoping I could hold it for three days. The first and perhaps most intense part of the process was the charcoal drawing that Hockney sketched directly onto the primed canvas. He describes this outline of head, body and chair as ̳fixing the pose‘, saying that he paints what he sees, and he makes sure he sees everything. The scrutiny and concentration of his gaze were remarkable, his head moving continuously from subject to canvas. Once the drawing was completed, the painting began. The portraits were all executed in acrylic paint, a medium Hockney hadn‘t used for 20 years. After the first few paintings he started using a new brand that has a higher gel content and thus remains wet for longer. This enabled him, over the course of three days, to make the faces of the sitters a little more nuanced. After an hour for a good lunch and some lively conversation, the sessions continued into the afternoon. During morning and afternoon breaks Hockney would sit in an armchair at some distance from his canvas, studying its progress and smoking a cigarette. He discussed various aspects of the painting during these breaks, but while he was painting there was complete silence. The process is a very physical one for Hockney, who continually moves forwards and backwards to look at the canvas close up and then from a few feet back. There is a remarkable sense of fluidity in his motions as he reaches over to reload his brush with paint, mix new colors or select a different brush. He can move his easel up and down by means of an electric motor, so that close, detailed work is always conducted at the optimum height. Throughout, the intensity of his concentration is unabated. Any exhaustion he feels afterwards is offset by the joy of creation. Sitters share in that joy as the image emerges. I found my likeless some how both familiar and unfamiliar. Hockney says he paints
―What he sees, acknowledging that we all see differently as our view is shaped by our many experiences. Being subjected to such close scrutiny makes one consider the effect of one‘s thought process s on one‘s physical appearance, and Hockney‘s consummate skill in depicting this internal complexity adds to the exhibition‘s psychological intensity. When my portrait had been completed I asked Hockney whether he thought he had captured me. ―I have got an aspect of you, he said. ―The first portrait captured a different aspect, and if I were to do a third it would be different again. Hockney‘s fascination with portraiture is completely intertwined with his deep sympathy for the individual , and all the fragilities we embody, ―la comédie humaine as he puts it.