Celia Birtwell: ‘I think David Hockney finds me a little bit ridiculous’

Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, Hockney’s 1971 portrait of textile dressmaker Celia Birtwell and her then husband, is in his retrospective at Tate Britain, which opens this week. Here, Birtwell talks concerning the portray and her position as Hockney’s muse

David Hockney stands with Celia Birtwell in front of his 1971 painting of her, Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy. Photograph Steve Parsons PA
David Hockney stands with Celia Birtwell in entrance of his 1971 portray of her, Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy. Photograph Steve Parsons PA

Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (above), the portrait of me and Ossie [Clark, her then husband], used to be painted in our Notting Hill flat. This is in reality the bed room, however the gentle got here in higher there, so we moved some issues round, just like the shagpile rug, to make it appear to be a front room. David couldn’t get Ossie’s ft, so I think the rug used to be helpful in any case. Ossie has a blouse with a bit of my print at the collar, which used to be great. The cat within the image is in fact Blanche, however David stated Percy had a higher ring to it. I’ve had a lot of cats in my lifestyles, however Blanche used to be a particular one.


David took loads of footage. I wasn’t dressed in that get dressed within the footage: I had simply were given again from Morocco, so I used to be more than likely in a jellaba. It’s a bit of a thriller how this get dressed, an Ossie Clark design, ended up within the image. I didn’t realise I nonetheless had it till I used to be going thru issues within the attic when I used to be hanging in combination the Ossie exhibition in Warrington in 2000. I bought it final yr thru Kerry Taylor Auctions and it went to Manchester Art Gallery.

British fashion designer Ossie Clark with Birtwell, in 1971. Photograph Evening Standard Getty Images
British type fashion designer Ossie Clark with Birtwell, in 1971. Photograph Evening Standard Getty Images

The image used to be painted initially of Ossie’s good fortune at Quorum [the shop Clark opened in 1966]. I had studied in Salford and got here to London to do more than a few tedious jobs. Alice Pollock, Ossie’s spouse, requested me to do a couple of prints one season, then I simply carried on. Ossie used to be an excellent cutter, and I’m moderately two-dimensional. We didn’t communicate concerning the prints an excessive amount of. He simply stated: “Do what you prefer.” It used to be nice for me as a result of there have been no parameters.

The first time I realized David used to be at Portobello marketplace. I used to be with a good friend who knew him. He simply stood out – he all the time has. He had on a corduroy jacket – and had the dyed blond hair. Ossie used to be higher pals with him, and used to stick in his studio. I think he finds me a little bit ridiculous, however there’s a fondness there. If I amuse him, then that’s a praise. It indisputably works each tactics – he’s very humorous.

Being a muse is a strand of my lifestyles I by no means expected. I’m a textile dressmaker and I really like doing that. I’m very pleased with the collection of drawings David did within the 70s: he used to be very concerned about me then and that presentations within the drawings. He additionally did a drawing of me for the duvet of French Vogue within the 80s. Posing used to be the unknown, nevertheless it has turn out to be a part of me, like that portray.

David will all the time inform you in case you glance great. I will be able to get dressed up a bit once I see him as a result of I do know what he likes. Sometimes, he gained’t say anything else and from time to time he’ll come up with a praise, which is beautiful. He places colors in combination brilliantly. I have in mind going to Paris and short of one red boot and one blue, and him encouraging me.

He all the time stated a little disarray is sweet, if one thing isn’t rather highest. He wore strange socks for a very long time. He had a white hat lately that used to be very bedraggled and I requested if he would really like me to scrub it. Eventually, my spouse and I tracked it right down to a store on Jermyn Street [in London] and despatched him a new one. He used to be extremely joyful. I think he’s quietly happy together with his style popularity. Recently, he’s been dressed in bespoke fits from Savile Row, but in addition a in point of fact ratty cashmere cardigan that he painted in on a daily basis, so it’s stuffed with paint.

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