Return to Articles


Through October 21, 2001 at The Museum of Contemporary Art [MOCA], Downtown
October, 2001 at Leslie Sacks Fine Arts, West Los Angeles

by Bill Lasarow

“Photographing Annie Leibovitz While She's Photographing
Me, Mojave Desert, Feb. 1983", photographic collage, 25 7/8 x 61 3/4", 1983.

No living artist is identified with Los Angeles more broadly than resident British expatriate David Hockney. But the affirmative, even jocular sunniness that permeates his art is far more about the cohesion of the Renaissance to the Modern tradition than some urban fiction that people cling to in order to elevate or bash what they love or hate in their own psyche. We’ve got two approaches to Hockney on gallery walls right now. One is a grand effort to reapproach the painter through his parallel body of photographic work; the other is a modest effort to just get a nice selection of images on paper together so you will reaffirm, “hey, this guy IS good.” I’m not going to argue that the earlier David conquers Goliath in a comparison of the two shows. But the little show does help part some fogginess that rolls in by the time you get through the really Big Show.

David Hockney Retrospective Photoworks originated in Germany--Cologne’s Museum Ludwig to be precise--and its more than 200 images persistently and persuasively posit that it is all intertwined with the more familiar paintings. Some of these delicacies are the meerest of bagatelles, visual notations that serve the most servile role to painting, what used to be sketchbook notations. So many artists do it routinely and with similar skill that they are notable only because they document an Important Artist, in whom we maintain a larger interest.

However, his oeuvre is added to substantively by some of what’s here. The “joiners” of the 1980s are the first to really pack a wallop. The process is no big deal: scads of polaroid snapshots are organized into a collage that collectively rough out a single pictorial image. They announce themselves as “art” by quoting craggy old cubist principles of spacial reporting. But the artist’s eye for organizing the images’ various details and color usually add up to shimmering and mesmerizing visual adventures. Oh mama, there are some tasty treats here! Then the kicker, the eccentric compositions whose shapes mimic the eye following the key parts of what ordinarily are suspended in rectangles of pictorial space (OK, Pearblossom Highway is, and it’s dandy the way it is). Standing in front of The Brooklyn Bridge or Sitting in a Zen Garden the eye gets down to the bottom edge and--why there’s Hockney’s own feet, right there in the picture. The generosity of it all! Great to look at, smart as a tack, and then he tricks you into getting to see through the artist’s eyes. Dangerously charming.

“Sitting in the Zen Garden at the
Ryoanji Temple, Kyoto, Feb. 19,
1983,” photocollage, ed. 20,
144.8 x 116.9 cm, 1983.

“Painted Environment III,”
color laser printed photographs,
36 1/4 x 44 1/4, 1994.

“Two Vases in the Louvre,"
etching aquatint, 1974.

“Lithograph of Water Made of
Thick and Thin Lines and a
Light Blue Wash and a Dark
Blue Wash”, lithograph,
26 x 34 1/2”, 1980.

“Bow Tie on a Chair”, litho-
graph, 30 x 22”, 1998.
Years later, late ‘90s now, checkout the Painted Environments. In these Hockney has been hot at his easel. Colorful, undulating geometric shapes and volumes corkscrew their way through one composition after another. Little canvases on easels have been rolled into place. Behind them are similar paintings on much larger canvases propped against the studio wall. Then the floor--that’s been attacked with the brush, roughly, as well. Click goes the digital camera, out comes a laser printed reproduction, and the result: a photo of a bunch of original paintings that has a visual life all its own. Now each painting can stand on its own, but which image would you rather be stranded with on a desert island?

The Sacks Gallery exhibition either begins or ends with one of these stunners, Painted Environment III. The show jumps us back and forth in time with one or two tastes from various series. A scratchy yet elegant tone poem of a still life, Edward Lear, goes way back to 1964. From 1980 A Lithograph of Water Made of Thick and Thin Lines and a Light Blue Wash and a Dark Blue Wash nails the hand-painted pool at his house resting in the California sun. Shift back to a solid study of misty atmosphere in Dark Mist (1973). And forward again to the poignant Bow Tie on a Chair (1998) that his now deceased friend Henry Geldzahler had so often occupied. So it goes.

The Hockney here is clearly a restless sort. But these aren’t nervous or sudden jumps, just moments plucked out of a persistent, relentless visual flood. We often want our best artists to be edgy. Neither of these shows gives us edgy. But in quite distinct ways they reinforce our image of this stylish gentleman artist who truly lives and reflects on his life through his eyes. We’re glad to have you in our neighborhood Mr. Hockney.