When Hockney met Davie in Wakefield – Recreating a ‘great moment in British art’

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Had he lived to see his work exhibited once more in Wakefield, Alan Davie would have been 99.

As it was, the Scottish abstract painter feted as the British Jackson Pollock, died a little over five years ago, unaware that a revival was afoot.

Alan Davie and David Hockney, Early Works Exhibition, The Hepworth Wakefield.'' 'Picture by Bruce Rollinson

Alan Davie and David Hockney, Early Works Exhibition, The Hepworth Wakefield.'' 'Picture by Bruce Rollinson

It was in 1958, soon after Leeds University had conferred on him a fellowship in the creative arts, that the first exhibition of his work was staged at the old Wakefield Art Gallery. With hindsight, the audience was as important as the artist.

David Hockney, an art student of around 20, was spellbound by Davie’s unconventional brushwork, and asked him about it at a Q&A session arranged by the gallery. In his autobiography, he would cite the encounter as one of his earliest influences.

“The connection between the two artists was an important moment in British painting,” said Eleanor Clayton, curator of a new exhibition which takes Davie’s work back to Wakefield and sets it against that of Hockney, from around the same time.

“It was an early and quite brief part of Hockney’s life, when he was just setting out as an artist, but it put him on a course towards abstraction and exploring the paint and the surface of the canvas in ways that he made his own in the decades that followed,” Ms Clayton said.

Alan Davie and David Hockney, Early Works Exhibition, The Hepworth Wakefield.'' 'Picture by Bruce Rollinson

Alan Davie and David Hockney, Early Works Exhibition, The Hepworth Wakefield.'' 'Picture by Bruce Rollinson

The three-month presentation at The Hepworth Wakefield, successor to the old art gallery, opens tomorrow and includes paintings which have not been seen publicly for decades, as well as correspondence between Hockney and Helen Kapp, the pioneering curator behind the 1958 exhibition. He invited her to a show of his own, which he had arranged in Skipton – but she declined, addressing her letter to “David Hackney”.

The latest opening comes in the week that Hockney’s brother, John, returned to Yorkshire from his home in Australia to sign copies of his family memoir.

The title, Never Worry What the Neighbours Think, was a phrase their father, Kenneth, used to encourage his children to find their own route in life, he told an audience in Saltaire, in whose old mill is now a gallery given over to Hockney.