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Never before published letter from David Hockney goes on display at The Hepworth Wakefield

14 Oct 2019

From Saturday 19 October a series of previously unseen archive materials will go on display as part of The Hepworth Wakefield’s Alan Davie & David Hockney: Early Works exhibition, throwing new light on the early careers of both artists.

The display includes a hand-written letter from a young art student, David Hockney to the visionary Director of the Wakefield Art Gallery, Helen Kapp in 1960 inviting her to come and see an exhibition of his work at Skipton Castle. The letter accompanies a catalogue of the exhibition and is written on official Skipton Castle headed paper, thought to have been borrowed by David Hockney for this purpose.

Kapp’s reply incorrectly addressed to David Hackney Esq. laments the fact that Skipton is a long way from Wakefield, especially as Kapp has no car. The Director does ask if instead she might see the pictures when they return to Bradford after the exhibition and before the artist goes back to The Royal College of Art in London at the start of term.

The exhibition at the Desormais Art Gallery at Skipton Castle is now believed to have been David Hockney’s first ever public solo exhibition. A fellow student from Bradford College of Art, a couple of years junior to Hockney, helped him take down his exhibition:

“…we removed the pictures from the walls and took them downstairs to his little minivan. He loaded it in the normal way for a tight space – best ones first, poorer ones last and then discovered that he couldn’t get them all back in. Inevitably the poorest and only half-finished one was abandoned… he said how poor it was. Rather in awe of him, I agreed and watched him take it back upstairs and secrete it inside a small locker. He locked the door, opened a window and threw away the key…”

It is assumed that when the work was eventually discovered, it would have been thrown away as it was unfinished.

It is known that in 1958 Hockney visited Wakefield Art Gallery to see Alan Davie’s first solo exhibition, which went on to tour the country and launch Davie’s career. Perhaps it was this exhibition that inspired him to try to engage Helen Kapp, a Director who championed contemporary artists and art’s role in explaining contemporary life. Also in the archive material at The Hepworth Wakefield are press cuttings from 1958, including The Wakefield Express declaring:

“Alan Davie’s collection of ‘action’ paintings exhibited at Wakefield Art Gallery has drawn huge crowds from all over the country during its first two weeks. Miss Helen Kapp, Art Gallery Director told the Express this week that it has been without doubt the most-talked about exhibition Wakefield has ever staged, with over 1,300 visitors each week since its opening. Last Saturday, when Mr Davie came to the exhibition… there were 485 people in the gallery to meet him, with more queuing at the door. ‘Mr Davie was simply overwhelmed’, said Miss Kapp, ‘there were cars parked on both sides of the street and people were crowding the windows of the Gallery to watch him arrive.’”

During the exhibition in Wakefield, Sir Herbert Read chose Alan Davie as one of three English artists to exhibit in the Italian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale later that year. The exhibition also toured to Nottingham University and Whitechapel Art Gallery, London.

Alan David & David Hockney: Early Works, 19 Oct 2019 – 19 Jan 2020, free entry.