PETER MATTHEWS AND SUSANNA HARRIS HUGHES DISCUSS THE PRINTING OF DAVID HOCKNEY’S ETCHING ‘ KAISARION AND ALL HIS BEAUTY’ 1961

In October 2011 Susanna contacted her ex-tutor from Wimbledon School of Art, Peter Matthews to discuss the printing of David Hockney’s 1961 etching “Kaisarion and all his Beauty”. The print at the time was on display at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester and she was intrigued to learn that Peter, who was still a student at Ealing School of Art in 1961, had editioned the print with David Hockney. It was needed urgently for a British Council exhibition.

Here is what he told her:

SHH Can you say something about Hockney’s knowledge of etching when he made this print?
PM Hockney made the print in 1961 on a zinc plate when a student at the RCA. He had a limited knowledge of etching as this was his 2nd etching (he had made lithographs as early as 1954 when a student at Bradford SofA). He turned to etching because he ran out of money for painting materials and zinc plates were free at that time in the Printmaking Dept. He almost certainly would have had help from the technician and fellow students. I do remember a sarcastic remark made by Alistair Grant who taught in the Dept. On seeing Hockney working on the plate of Myself and My Heroes he said “What do you think you are doing – writing a book?”.
The use of writing and lettering was to become a key element in his future work – Hockney clearly had a feel for the process.

SHH How many plates were involved?
PM Only one plate was used and from studying a reproduction of the print and after 50 years I should say that the plate went through at least 5-6 stages.

SHH Can you say something about the various states?
PM Probably the line drawing was etched first as it delineates where most elements of the composition are. The swirly broken lines at the top were made by simply dragging coarse wire wool through a hard wax ground (this was a stage that all new students did on their first test plate)

SHH How were the head, hands and RCA college crest created? Were they made using a photo etch?
PM I cannot say exactly how the letter press type motifs used were transferred to the plate. At that time there were complicated ways of transferring using wet ink positive images even from freshly printed newspapers. But being the RCA with all the resources it may have been a photographic process. I was not present in ’61 and can only guess.

SHH And what about the lettering?
PM I think they tried to aquatint the lettering on first of all but that did n’t work so I definitely remember that the word Beauty had to be reinforced by engraving it – which someone else would probably have done.

SHH Can you say something about the aquatint?
PM The lettering was originally drawn in aquatint but I guess did not hold enough ink. It must have then been engraved or reinforced with line etching..

SHH It must have been very difficult wiping the plate so that the black ink did not get mixed into the red lettering which was so close to it – how did you do that?
PM The black ink was put on first and the plate wiped very thoroughly. The letters that were to be red had to be cleaned out of black ink very carefully with benzine and then the red ink carefully applied with a dolly.

SHH Why do you think that the print owned by Pallant House was signed but not editioned?
PM In those days there was a practice that gave the artist a percentage number of copies extra to the edition. These would have been signed A/P or Artist’s Proof instead of an edition number. Why this copy has nothing is open to speculation.

SHH What other etchings did you print for David Hockney?
PM All Hockney’s etchings in ’61 would have been proofed by the technician Ron Fuller. I was then at Ealing School of Art. It was I think in the spring of ’62 that I was asked if I would like to print the editions of Myself and My Heroes, Kaisarion, and Three Kings and a Queen. Then when I went to the RCA in the summer of ’62 I editioned Gretchen and the Snurl, Mirror Mirror on the Wall, Rumpelstiltskin, My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean and The Hypnotist. Hockney then signed up with Petersburg Press which brought to an end my association with him.