‘It is of critical importance to understand the relationship Hockney has with all of his subjects, which is why he refused the invitation to paint portraits of people he doesn’t know… I think it’s also important to note that Hockney stands still for several minutes before he paints a portrait, observing the subject but also connecting with him/her, reminding himself of their relationship and the way it plays in his mind’s eye.’
– Jill Moniz
Painted in 1979, David Hockney’s Dr. Banks is a revealing full-length portrait of the artist’s friend and chess partner, Dr. Leon Banks. Dressed in a blue suit composed of loose yet sensitive lines, Banks is composed and debonair. Tighter brushwork illuminates the details of Banks’ face and animates his wistful expression. Little is shown in the background save for an aqueous patch of pale blue sky which encircles Banks like an aura. Dr. Leon Banks was raised in Washington D. C., where he was a frequent visitor to the city’s many public museums. In the early 1950s, he moved to Los Angeles, and began his art collection with abstract canvases by Mark Rothko and Robert Rauschenberg, among others; over time, Hockney became amongst the most well-represented artists in the collection. The two met at the home of the collector Beatrice Gersh, and the two quickly became friends. Hockney’s studio, they discovered, was only a short walk from Banks’ paediatric practice. Banks repeatedly asked the artist to paint his portrait, but Hockney acquiesced only in 1979; going on to paint him frequently, first in 1994 and then in 2005, illuminating a unique relationship between artist and patron.
In endeavouring to capture a person’s likeness, Hockney regularly returns to the same pantheon of subjects, and he believes this process to be most successful when he truly knows his sitter: ‘I think the way I draw, the more I know and react to people, the more interesting the drawings will be…If you don’t know the person, you don’t really know if you’ve got a likeness at all’ (D. Hockney, Faces 1966-1984, London, 1987, n. p.). Accordingly, Hockney’s portraits are not simply the continuous thread running through his prolific career but also a visual chronicle of a life with all its intimacies and confidences. For Hockney, portraiture presents ‘collusion’ between the artist and sitter and a means to consider the dynamics of painting itself (M. Livngstone, ‘The Private Face of Public Art’, in David Hockney Portraits, exh. cat., National Portrait Gallery, London, 2006, p. 19). To represent another person’s essence is always a collaboration, and in Dr. Banks the artist allows his friend the space to stage himself. Hockney’s rendering is capacious, the image of a proud and calm man and a testament to their friendship.