David Hockney's View From Terrace, 2003 (in his studio). Photo: Richard Schmidt.

The Art Set
Charlie Scheips

Hockney Time

This week, David Hockney’s new book Hockney’s Pictures goes on sale in this country. Its been out a little while in Europe and the moment I received an advance copy of the book I knew I wanted to do something to mark the occasion. I got to spend a few days with Hockney a couple weeks ago in Hollywood as I am helping produce an exhibition at Alison Jacques gallery in London of Robert Mapplethorpe curated by David Hockney opening January 14-March 12, 2005. Hockney’s inclusion in the most recent Whitney Biennial seems to have instigated a re-positioning of his place in the art world today.

It's not that he hasn’t had a prominent place before but that people interested in his work seem to be coming from a wider and wider field. One of his recent watercolors is on the cover of this month’s Flash Art magazine and hot artists of today such as Elizabeth Peyton count Hockney as a big influence on their own work.


L. to r.: The invite for Robert Mapplethorpe curated by David Hockney in London; David Hockney curating Mapplethorpe's show with Charlie Scheips at his Hollywood Hills studio. Photo: Richard Schmidt.

I was in London last year for his opening at Annely Juda that came on the heels of news that he and Lucien Freud had painted each other’s portraits. It was Hockney’s first big show of the new watercolors and combined with the Hockney/Freud news resulted in a jam-packed opening and front cover stories in all the London newspapers for days on end.

Hockney’s portrait is a double portrait of Freud with his long time assistant photographer and painter David Dawson. Freud’s is a revealing impasto oil that required over 70 odd sittings that Hockney traveled by foot to through Holland Park to Freud’s nearby studio. Incidentally, Dawson’s paintings will be featured in an exhibition at London’s Marlborough gallery opening on November 23.

David Hockney has been a famous personality and artist for most of his adult life beginning in 1962 when he graduated with a gold medal from the Royal College of Art. The next year London art dealer John Kasmin gave him his first solo show. While we’re talking portraits, Kasmin’s son art dealer Paul Kasminthis week opened in Chelsea Andy Warhol: Patrons and Friends and features the Pop master’s double portrait of Hockney from 1974.

David Hockney's Polaroid collage, Kasmin, Los Angeles, 28th March 1982

Hockney first came to the United States first 1961 and returned again to in 1963 meeting his great friend curator Henry Geldzahler, and Andy Warhol. He made a visit to Los Angeles during that same year and liked it so much he moved there the following year.

By 1969 he had the prestigious André Emmerich gallery on 57th Street as his New York venue that continued until the closing of the gallery in 1998. Hockney’s first retrospective took place in 1970 at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London. In 1973, he moved to Paris where many of his exquisite colored pencil drawings of his friends were made. It was also a fertile period for his prolific printmaking endeavors — working first with Gemini G.E.L, and later Tyler Graphics where he produced his famous Paper Pool series. This period also marked the break-up of his relationship with artist Peter Schlesinger that is documented in the Jack Hazan film A Bigger Splash.

In 1975 he designed his first operatic production for the Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s staging of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress. For the next two decades Hockney would go on to design memorable opera productions for many of the world’s great opera companies including the Metropolitan, Chicago Lyric as well as the Los Angeles Music Center Opera house.

In 1976 he began to seriously play with the camera — making his first photocollages in his personal photo albums that he then called joiners. He first showed his photographs at Ileana Sonnabend’s gallery in New York comprising an editioned portfolio of twenty iconic images. Hockney had very carefully archived his photographic output in numerous leather bound photo albums.

He was not as careful with the negatives causing some organizational problems when curator Alain Sayag of the Musée National d’Art Modern in Paris came to Los Angeles to select a major show of Hockney’s photographs. The solution they devised was to shoot Polaroids of the selected images so that David’s staff could unearth the negatives and Sayag could take a set back with him to Paris.


L. to r.: Still life of David Hockney's coffee table, Los Angeles, 2004; David Hockney's terrace and pool. Photos: Charlie Scheips.

Each night over dinner, Hockney and Sayag had long conversations about the nature of photography and its inherent limitations. Afterwards, Hockney found himself with a lot of left over Polaroid film and set about making some experiments using cubist notions about space applied photographically. His experiments resulted in almost 200 Polaroid photocollages before he moved on to work in the 35mm film format — a format that also allowed for multiple exact copies unlike the Polaroids. These were later editioned and continue to fetch high prices at auction and in galleries around the world.

In 1983, the work was documented in his influential book Cameraworks that was accompanied by exhibitions around the world. That was also the year I met Hockney, when the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago for whom I then worked played host to Hockney Paints the Stage organized by Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center. The night after the opening at the museum, Richard Gray gallery hosted of show of Hockney’s photocollages timed in conjunction with the books’ publication. I guess you could say that’s when I got hooked on Hockney.

David Hockney's Home Made Print, Flowers Apples & Pear on a Table, July 1986

By the time I worked for Hockney in the mid 1980s his interest in photography was beginning to wane but not before the creation of his photographic masterpiece Pearblossom Highway 1 and 2 — now among the gems of the collection of the Getty Museum. I suppose his last purely photographic body of work were the Home Made Prints he made in the late 1980s using office copying machines.

Since that time, Hockney has increasingly sought refuge in drawing and painting. A degenerative hearing disorder made it increasingly difficult for Hockney to work in the theater as he took so much from the music to inspire his designs.

A couple of years ago he discovered watercolor painting anew and typical of him, he reinvented it in his own way. Usually the bastion of weekend amateurs, Hockney broke with the traditional conventions and set about making large-scale watercolors. He borrowed from his earlier photographic experiments devising a method to create individual paper panels that became the component parts of a larger design — sometimes as large as 9 feet across.

He has also been spending a greater amount of his time in Europe of late — making trips by car from Spain to Scandinavia. The landscape of his childhood Yorkshire has also drawn him back thanks to his sister Margaret’s house in Bridlington on the seashore. Armed with watercolors, he drives throughout the region making quick watercolor sketches that are then transformed into large-scale finished works back in the studio.

All these and more are featured in Hockney’s Pictures. It’s a richly illustrated retrospective — a cornucopia of Hockney’s delight in the visual world featuring more than 350 pages of full color illustrations spanning the 45 years of his art making. One of the things that has always astonished me about him is the deft way he can take even the smallest gallery announcement or exhibition poster and with a few dabs of paint or some strokes of the pen transform the usually dreary work of graphic designer into something someone might even want to frame.

David Hockney's Self-portrait, Baden-Baden, 10th June 1999

Hockney’s hand is a major part of the pleasure of the book Originally, he told me he didn’t take a big interest in the book but on second thought he realized the possibilities it afforded with his involvement. So, instead of the typically run-of-the-mill survey that one usually gets from today’s increasingly unimaginative book publishers — we have instead an individual artist picture book created by the artist himself. There is very little copy in the book and most of it quotes from Hockney about the pictures themselves.

I can’t think of another living artist who has worked so successfully in such a wide variety media. The book touches on this expansive range from the early paintings, drawings, and prints that were the impetus of Hockney’s early fame to the great paintings of the 1960s and 1970 that defined in large order the aesthetic landscape of Southern California as well as his depictions of the protagonists of his personal universe as well as member of the international high bohemian chic in the hundreds of portraits and paintings that Hockney created during the period.

Hockney’s work in the theater as well as his obsessive pre-occupation with photo-collages and cubist space in the 1980s is seen throughout the book as well as key selections from his work of the last few years which have almost exclusively been in watercolor. There are also several works that grew out of his brilliant book Secret Knowledge that was published a couple years ago and which is still wreaking havoc amongst the stodgy art historical establishment.

David Hockney's sketchbook page, Ashtray on Studio Floor, 2002
Hockney’s Pictures is organized in four major thematic groupings that reflect his ongoing aesthetic interests. The first Problems of Depiction clearly illustrates the tensions that Hockney traversed in between notions of abstraction and modernism and the innate desire we have as humans in seeing the beauty of nature. Life Stilled highlight the imagination and bravura the artist has brought to the genres of still life and portraiture. He often blurs the distinctions between these seemingly different artistic formats such as his iconic Mr. and Mrs. Clark and Percy from 1970-71.

Click on image to order Hockney's Pictures.
Unless otherwise noted all reproductions ©2004 David Hockney
Actually, the sections of the book are really just an organizing principle. His Portraits section is perhaps the book’s most immediately satisfying, as Hockney has to be among only of handful of internationally known artist actually making portraits by hand — that is without a camera. In addition to portraits of family, friends and colleagues there is a fantastic selection of his self-portraits which seen together exhibit the enormous range that is Hockney’s approach to image making.

Space and Light is the finale of this richly illustrated book. While a great many of Hockney’s best-known paintings are included, the real stars of the show are many of his most recent watercolors that will be featured in a major show opening February 26, 2005 at LA Louver gallery in Venice, California entitled After Secret Knowledge: Painting the East Yorkshire Landscape.
The Art Set, ©Charlie Scheips, 2004

Previous Art Set columns -
Volume I, Number 1: In Search of the Continuous Present
Volume I, Number 2: A Tale of Two Cities
Volume I, Number 3: Julian and Julien
Volume I, Number 4: The Lobbyist
Volume I, Number 5: Hot and Cold
Volume I, Number 6: Design for Living
Volume I, Number 7: Bohemia: Now and Then
Volume I, Number 8: Casting the Net to LA


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November 19, 2004, Volume I, Number 9

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