Their Beginning

Illustration by David Hockney, 1966


“Their illicit pleasure has been fulfilled.
They get up and dress quickly, without a word.
They come out of the house separately, furtively;
and as they move along the street a bit unsettled,
it seems they sense that something about them betrays
what kind of bed they’ve just been lying on.
But what profit for the life of the artist:
tomorrow, the day after, or years later, he’ll give voice
to the strong lines that had their beginning here.”

Constantine P. Cavafy


David Hockney came across the Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy, as early as in his studies. He was fascinated by Cafavy’s clear and unpretentious way of writing about homosexuality. Thus the idea for a cycle of fourteen etchings was born, which was, however, not solely due to his fascination for the Greek poet, but also because of his basic desire to create literature etchings. The project was not put into practice before 1966, as the translation of the poems which was in existence then could not be used for legal reasons. This is why Hockney decided to entrust his friend Stephen Spender, an English poet, and his colleague Nikos Stangos with a new translation of the poems. The project was completed in just 6 months. In general, the works of the cycle were not intended to be exact illustrations of the poem, but rather visual interpretations of Cavafy’s poetry.


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