Ms Mary Alexander
Mary Alexander, who gave the talk to the Arts Society Scarborough meeting at the Downe Arms on January 15th is a graduate of University College, London in History and the History of Art , and has wide experience of lecturing at Arts Society meetings and elsewhere. Mary delivered an interesting account of David Hockney and his social circle, centered around her erudite analysis of Hockney’s 1971 painting “Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy”. This was not, she pointed out, a commissioned work; Ossie Clark and his wife Celia Birtwell, fashion and textile designers respectively, were members of the “arty” set, including Cecil Beaton and others, and were close friends of Hockney. The picture was painted at the Clark’s flat in Linden Gardens, Notting Hill, actually in the bedroom where the light was “contre-jour” (against the light), an environment that Hockney favoured at that time and of which he was a master, relishing the technical difficulty compared with conventional frontal lighting. The picture was acrylic on canvas, and Mary pointed out that the use of gesso, the white primer employed for acrylics painted on canvas, also provided a shine to the surface which enhanced the contre-jour effect. An unusual departure from convention in a dual man/woman portrait was that it was Celia who was standing, even though she was pregnant at the time. The cat in the picture was named “Percy”, but in later years Celia pointed out the “small, demure” white cat was in fact not Percy, but Blanche; Percy was a “big bruiser”.
Mary stressed that not only is David Hockney a superb technician but he also has a deep knowledge of the history of art. She showed an image of his “History Wall”, a mish-mash of small images showing the development of painting through the ages. She stressed the admiration of his students for the clarity of his teaching and his ability to convey to his audience the elements of the painting process
Both Ossie and Celia were born and raised in Lancashire, and met at the Manchester College of Art, which is where Hockney, also a northerner of course, and Clark met, in 1960. Ossie and Celia were married in 1969 and Hockney was their best man. In his work Ossie favoured “cutting on the bias”, cutting against the grain of the material, a technique which was perhaps wasteful in material, but eminently suitable for his bold designs using the colourful materials designed by his wife. It resulted in a garment clinging to the body, stressing the femininity of the wearer. The “Wizard of Ossie” he was dubbed by Cecil Beaton. The team of Ossie and Celia became the epitome of the “Swinging Sixties”, producing clothes for Mick Jagger and the Beatles among others of that generation. Clark however was bi-sexual, and, Mary told us, the marriage was stressed from its early days. The pair divorced in 1975, and Clark sadly met a tragic end in 1996, aged 54. Celia continued to produce her iconic designs into the twenty-first century and is still alive today.