Portrait of Bob Graham with Blue is from a series of works painted in 1971 that marked a new departure for Donaldson. They formed the exhibition Antony Donaldson: Portraits which was held at the Rowan Gallery in 1972. Reviewing the exhibition, William Packer comments, 'His new paintings at the Rowan were all conceived, rather wryly, as portraits. They are, in fact, images of the shirtfronts of ten friends, male and female, taking in only the area of the rib cage. They all occupy the centre of their canvas, and then merge gradually into the sprayed ground. And these images, far from being coolly delineated, are delicate and elusive. Pattern and texture are read for themselves at first, and then a description of the form which they conceal begins to emerge. Through this reticence the images acquire an unexpected power. A button falling open, revealing a patch of throat, or just bare flesh, the veiled suggestion of the swelling of a breast, subtle nuances of pressure and tension, all lead us to the sensual and physical reality behind the image. But the important thing for Donaldson is that this work marks a move away from the manipulation of the imagery, or its self-conscious presentation, into an altogether more painterly mode, where the preoccupation is instead with the process of realisation of the image, and its relationship to its source' (W. Packer, 'View this side', Art & Artists, May 1972).
'I arrived in Los Angeles from London in October 1966 the same time as Bob Graham, the sculptor, arrived from San Jose. I had met Ed Ruscha and Joe Goode in London before. Joe lent us his house in LA while we looked for a place. When we had found one we realised that we all lived within walking distance of each other and used to have an occasional breakfast together. At the beginning of 1971 back in London I asked 10 friends to come to my studio in their favourite shirt so I could paint a portrait of them. I only painted a centre section of their shirt but I found there was a strange likeness' (Private correspondence with Antony Donaldson, January 2021).