Skeleton Study III, Royal College of Art

Royal College of Art

Hockney moves to London to study at the Royal College of Art in the autumn of 1959. The prestigious art academy is in a period of flux, and London itself is soon to enter the Swinging Sixties. At the RCA, Hockney studies with tutors Roger de Grey, Ceri Richards, Ruskin Spear, and Carel [NESTED]Weight, whose practices support a continuation of the academic training he received at Bradford School of Art. He also meets with a number of visiting artists whose work represents the artistic currents of the moment, including Francis Bacon, Peter Blake, Richard Smith, and Joe Tilson. 

Hockney in painting school
Hockney in painting school

Early friendship with Kitaj

Hockney forms a particularly deep-seated friendship with R. B. Kitaj, an American-born RCA student several years his senior, whose encouragement assuages Hockney’s sense of being something of a country boy from Yorkshire. 

Skeleton drawings

Skeleton Study III, Royal College of Art, 1959

To get into the swing of making work in his new environment, Hockney concentrates on drawing a skeleton that hangs at the school. In Kitaj’s recollection, "During our first days at the Royal College, I spotted this boy with short black hair and huge glasses, wearing a boiler suit, making the most beautiful drawing I’d ever seen in an art school. It was of a skeleton. I told him I’d give him five quid for it. He thought I was a rich American. I was—I had $150 a month GI Bill money to support my wife and son. I kept buying drawings from him …."

Skeleton Study VI, Royal College of Art, 1959

So I began at the Royal College and I thought, "Well, I haven’t done any drawing for two years, or very little, I’ll make a drawing, a long drawing, to find out what I’ll do in the meantime." And I made two drawings of a skeleton. Each one took about three or four weeks to do: two very academic, very accurate drawings of a whole skeleton, half-life-size.

I was drawing all the time. The one student I kept talking to a lot was Ron Kitaj. Ron was slowly doing these strange pictures, and I talked to him about them and about my work. And I said, "Well, I don’t know, it seems pointless doing it." I’d talk to him about my interests; I was a keen vegetarian then, and interested in politics a bit, and he’d say to me, "Why don’t you paint those subjects?" And I thought, it’s quite right; that’s what I’m complaining about, I’m not doing anything that’s from me. So that was the way I broke it. I began to paint those subjects.

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