Art & Photography

Canines, Canvases

An art tour of Mayfair’s George club

All photography JUKKA OVASKAINEN

The best part of the recent Wallace Collection exhibition, Portraits of Dogs: From Gainsborough to Hockney, was an entire room devoted to David Hockney and his two beloved dachshunds, Stanley and Boodgie. The artist’s portraits of the duo cover the red walls: lolling over cushions, napping on each other’s velvety stomachs, legs stuck in the air at protractor angles. A video depicting the trouble Hockney went through to try and capture the dogs – setting up easels around his house to try and capture them in their natural state, cajoling them back when they ran towards him or wandered off – played nearby. In total, Hockney made 45 dog portraits, which he compiled into his 1995 exhibition, Dog Days, and which have become some of his best-loved works.

It felt fitting, then, to follow up the exhibition with a visit to George, the newly renovated private members’ club in Mayfair. Long known as particularly dog-friendly, the club has now gone one step further and introduced its own canine mascot: a dachshund named George (of course). He even serves as the model for the club’s new logo, a characterful monochrome line drawing printed on napkins and teacups. In real-life, George was found snuggled on a diminutive sofa near the entrance, nose tucked between paws, scopious body ensconced in a knitted jumper. And on the way down to the fittingly named Hound Bar, a subterranean Art Deco cocktail bar-cum-nightclub, sculptor Jill Berelowitz was commissioned to create a bronze relief of a dachshund, its doleful eyes fixed on revellers as they descend the stairs.

But a shared enthusiasm for dogs isn’t the only link George has to Hockney. In fact, the club could double up as a mini gallery for the artist. Taking a tour around the dining room and hallways of the ground-floor space, the works offer a unique insight into Hockney’s artistic journey throughout the decades, from the fragmented lithographs of the late 1970s to the impressionistic iPad drawings of the 2010s. It’s a long-standing relationship – even before the refurb, George had a myriad of works by Hockney (including some of the dachshund portraits), as well as a host by Hirst, Emin and other assorted members of the Young British Artists.

With the new works, George seems to be signalling the arrival of a more playful, dynamic atmosphere. This is a space reborn: respectful to its past, but excited for its future. The choice of the Hockney paintings reflects this. Take, for example, ‘Still Life, 2017’, a large-scale work that I found hung across from the bar. The piece marries the absurd with the domestic, as brightly coloured shapes – mountains? fountains? – are placed on and around coloured rugs. The setting is a geometric hinterland, part-house, part-swimming pool, part-gallery, and the grid-like patterns on the walls offset the chaotic riot of form and colour contained within. It’s a prime example of Hockney’s fascination with ‘reverse perspective’, where multiple viewpoints are contained within the same shape, an idea emphasised by its placement on a panelled, mirrored wall.

This experiment with structure – a deconstruction of the familiar lines of the household space – seems to exist in conversation with a different work, ‘Two Red Chairs and Table, March 1986’. Rendered only in three bold colours, blue, green and red, the painting depicts some kind of porch or veranda, the greens of the foliage framed by the grid-like lines of the structure. On the decking, there are two chairs, a table and a headless person, all laid out in a line. All of these things are drawn in red, and only the human figure is solid – stare at them too long, and they start to look like symbols, like hieroglyphs. Although the work initially seems simplistic – it contains, as the title indicates, two red chairs and a table – in classic Hockney style, it seems to confound the viewer at every opportunity, defying any kind of easy reading. It’s interesting, too, that this piece is a home-made print executed on an office colour copy machine, a move by Hockney that seems to marry together the mundane and the artistic, the regimented and the haphazard, in a union of pure creative expression.

The furniture at the centre of ‘Two Red Chairs…’ finds an equivalent with 1998’s ‘Van Gogh’s Chair (White)’, an homage to Van Gogh’s 1888 painting of the same subject. Hockney explained his love for the original: “The perspective is terrific. […] You couldn’t take a photograph like this. I’ve always loved this painting. Whenever my father came to London, he always wanted to see Van Gogh’s Chair. He thought it was marvellous.” As with ‘Still Life, 2017’, the painting incorporates a multiplicity of perspectives, a simultaneous gaze from all angles alchemised into one coherent form. The painting is hung next to ‘Tyler Dining Room, from Moving Focus’, a 1984 lithograph showing the dining room of master printer and Hockney collaborator Kenneth Tyler. At its centre is a dining table and chairs; at the edges of the work, the angles of the room begin to concertina, as if being folded inwards. It’s no wonder that the work is displayed alongside ‘Van Gogh’s Chair’. Although their depictions of furniture are wildly different – with the bone-white starkness of the latter contrasting against the luxury of the Tyler – they both prioritise an intimate, highly personal outlook, an off-kilter way of considering our familiar spaces. Hung here, over George’s dining room, they seemed designed to include me, almost to invite me into a shared understanding, as I observed them from my own seat.

Next, I’m given a tour of the 18-seater private dining room. This area provides the backdrop for Hockney’s newer iPad works, including the dazzling ‘The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven) – 30 May’. With its riot of green, punctuated by the red of a road sign, it nods to Hockney’s earlier fascination with the raw power of bold colour. It’s flanked on both sides by the floral still lifes of the ‘My Window’ series, a trio of works capturing a fleeting moment seen from the window of Hockney’s Yorkshire home. Each of these panels depicts unfurling pink blooms, whether of flowers in a vase or of the cherry blossom on a tree outside – placed next to the large windows of the George’s private dining room, they seem to dissolve the boundary between interior and exterior.

With its paean to both all things Hockney and all things canine, George offers a contemporary update on an artistic tradition that stretches decades. And isn’t just the decor – when I met the club’s owner, Richard Caring, he pulled up a photograph of his late dog Roxy, who “was and still is the love of my life”. It’s a mixture that seems to epitomise the updated George: sweet without being sentimental, elegant without being stuffy, cultured without being snobbish.

This article is taken from Port issue 34. To continue reading, buy the issue or subscribe here