Hockney, David (b.1937), 'Untitled', Ink Drawing, 1961

'Untitled', Ink Drawing, 1961

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This important early ink drawing, taken from a sketchbook, directly relates to Hockney's 1961 oil on canvas 'I'm in the Mood for Love', now in the collection of the Royal College of Art. The drawing includes two different variants of the oil’s central motif of the self-portrait between two sky scrapers as well as a sketch of a scantily dressed long-legged dancing girl, a denizen of the New York night.


Hockney made his first visit to New York in the Summer of ’61, while still a student at London’s Royal College of Art. He flew there on his 24th birthday, the 9th of July, a date clearly highlighted in both the drawing and painting. He had fantasised about New York since his childhood and seeing ‘New York Road’ displayed on the trams in Leeds. At the Royal College of Art he’d been introduced to the American magazine ‘Physique Pictorial’ by his friend John Berger, this all-male and all-nude magazine featuring photos of attractive muscular young men in athletic poses distinctly sexualised America in Hockney’s mind as a paradise of handsome men and sexual freedom. Upon arrival, the city fully lived up to his expectations, he recalled in a 2010 interview with Christopher Sykes: “I was taken by the sheer energy of the place. It was amazingly sexy, and unbelievably easy. People were much more open, and i felt completely free. The city was a total twenty-four-hour city. Greenwich village was never closed, the bookshops were open all night so you could browse, the gay life was much more organised, and I thought, ‘This is the place for me’’.

The excitement Hockney felt at the wild possibilities offered by New York’s gay bars and nightlife is clearly communicated in both his drawing and painting. Marco Livingstone describes how ‘In I’m In The Mood For Love…He pictures himself with a knowing naughtiness as a horny little devil among the skyscrapers. A message on his arm, borrowed from directions displayed in the city’s subway system, reads ‘to Queens Uptown’, a gay in-joke.’ Hockney’s search for a ‘hot night’ is further underlined by the temperature, 95°F, written on the surface of the canvas, the pulsating red heart in his chest, and the silhouetted couple in the window. Livingstone notes how ‘taking his title from an old but still popular song, a top-ten hit for Louis Armstrong in 1935, makes his intentions abundantly clear, though cloaked in metaphor and a visual joke in which even the city’s skyscrapers become phallic symbols announcing potential sexual conquests”.

The two alternative designs for the scene in Hockney’s drawing are more overtly sexual than the final painted composition. In the first, Hockney, clearly identifiable via his signature glasses, is sandwiched between the two phallic skyscrapers yet additionally there are a pair of large buttocks bearing down upon him from above. In the second sketch, the self-portrait bears a distinct resemblance to the left hand figure in ‘We Two Boys Together Clinging’ in which Livingstone states ‘the torsos are self-evidently phallic symbols, their sexual urges having apparently overpowered them to the point where these become, at least temporarily, their defining characteristics’. The artfully placed target symbol further draws attention to Hockney’s focus for the night . In this second sketch the thrusting phallic skyscraper which Hockney passionately embraces, ejaculates into the buttock-shaped clouds leaving little to the imagination.

The dancing girl to the right is very much in the vein of Hockney’s 1961 painting ‘Cha Cha Cha That Was Danced In The Early Hours of 24th March, 1961’. The hastily drawn figure was perhaps sketched on one of Hockney’s late-night explorations of New York. The wild scratchy style gives a sense of movement and the shady figures glimpsed in the shadows of a dark club in the early hours.

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Paper Size 35.6 × 27.9 cm
Provenance Gene Baro (famed American curator and critic)