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Andrew McMillan writes new poem inspired by Alan Davie and David Hockney

18 Oct 2019

To coincide with The Hepworth Wakefield’s major exhibition Alan Davie & David Hockney: Early Works, the gallery has collaborated with award-winning Yorkshire-born poet Andrew McMillan to produce a new poem inspired by and to accompany the exhibition.

Andrew McMillan’s new poem line begins by exploring the fundamental need for humans to express themselves using their hands for drawing, writing and creating art. Influenced by Davie and Hockney’s shared passion for poetry, particularly the work of American poet Walt Whitman, line is a moving response that also considers inheritance and influences of the LGBT+ experience.

The 19th-century poem We Two Boys Together Clinging by Whitman has often been identified as a poem of homosexual love. Hockney’s painting of the same title – We Two Boys Together Clinging – depicts two men kissing, created at a time when homosexuality was still illegal in England. Whitman’s poetry inspired Davie to discover a passion for writing and reading poetry during World War II and had a similarly powerful influence upon Hockney. In the early 1960s a number of Hockney’s paintings incorporated lines from Whitman’s poems and the artist even adopted code used by Whitman in a journal when writing of his love for another man.

Andrew McMillan said: ‘It’s a joy to work with The Hepworth Wakefield on this project. As a lifelong fan of Walt Whitman, it is really exciting to see how his work influenced both Hockney and Davie, and to be given access to rarely-seen poetry by Davie. This research has informed my new work – line – which I hope will encourage a new generation of readers for Whitman’s wonderful verse and bring the creative output of Hockney and Davie to new audiences’.

Eleanor Clayton, Curator of The Hepworth Wakefield’s Early Works exhibition said: We’re so delighted to be collaborating with the renowned poet Andrew McMillan in relation to these spectacular paintings. McMillan really underlines the importance of poetry to both these leading figures of post-war British painting, and encourages a deeper reading of their early works which incorporate words, lines of verse, and codes. The Hepworth Wakefield strives to present an engaging conversation between the historic and the contemporary, so it is wonderful to extend the legacy of Davie and Hockney through this newly commissioned poem by one of the most exciting poets of the contemporary moment.’

Extracts of Davie’s little-known poetry will be displayed within the exhibition. McMillan’s poem will be available for visitors to pick up in the exhibition. On Saturday 18 January 2020, The Hepworth Wakefield will host a day of poetry and performances exploring the themes within the exhibition.

Alan Davie & David Hockney: Early Works runs from 19 October 2019 – 19 January 2020. Open daily, 10am-5pm, free entry (closed Christmas Day and Boxing Day)