With a new show at L.A. Louver in Venice, artist David Hockney revisits his passion for technology with a series of mesmerizing new works.
At David Hockney’s house in the Hollywood Hills, a new person shows up to have his or her portrait painted every few days. The schedule is unerring: The subject (be it book publisher Benedikt Taschen, LACMA curator Stephanie Barron, Hockney’s housekeeper or his longtime car detailer) arrives at 10 a.m. and takes a place on an unremarkable armchair. “I let them just sit down, and I find that they all sit in different ways,” says Hockney. The chair is set upon a raised platform in natural light across from the England-born artist, who two years ago returned to his longtime residence in Los Angeles after almost eight years in Yorkshire.
On day one of each sitting, Hockney—in between frequent cigarette breaks—does a charcoal sketch of the person in less than an hour. By the end of the second day, the portrait is largely complete, leaving the third day to capture the nuances and details such as the face and hands. Work commences promptly in the morning, followed by a break for lunch prepared by Hockney’s housekeeper, and the proceedings wrap by 4 p.m. “All I want to do is work. I don’t go out much,” says Hockney, who turned 78 in July. The artist’s longtime friend, former assistant and frequent subject, Charlie Scheips, finds his focus remarkable: “He’s scrutinizing, looking constantly back and forth from the subject to the canvas to the brush. I think he’s drawing and seeing better than ever.”
Landscape designer and contractor Bradley James Bontems, who sat for Hockney last year, adds: “Even with his skill and his talent, it’s not easy for him. It takes a lot of energy. He’s looking very intently at you—it takes a bit of getting used to at the start.”
Los Angeles has always invigorated Hockney, who made his name in the 1960s with his vibrant, now-iconic paintings of California swimming pools and male bathers. “The light here is marvelous. It’s a lot better than England,” says Hockney, who moved back to L.A. after the tragic 2013 drug-related death in his home of one of his assistants. Afterward, traumatized by the loss, he nearly gave up drawing and painting.
Since his return to the West Coast, he’s been “working like a maniac,” says Scheips, completing dozens of paintings. Over the summer, 37 new works went on display at Venice’s L.A. Louver gallery, which has represented Hockney since the late 1970s. The July 15 opening was the 40-year-old gallery’s most thronged ever, drawing 1,000 collectors, subjects, celebrities (Jacqueline Bisset, Roger Corman), fellow artists (Thomas Demand, Ed Moses) and fans.
A half-dozen of Hockney’s new portraits are included in the show, which runs through Sept. 19. But the centerpiece is work that forcefully demonstrates Hockney’s continued innovation in the use of technology for making art. On first glance, the pieces, which he calls “photographic drawings,” are simply images of groups of people gathered in interior spaces. Look closer and there’s something fascinating going on: Each person was photographed separately, then digitally stitched into the interiors. The effect is to dissolve one of the reigning precepts of Western art, a tenet dating back to the Renaissance: the necessity of a sole vanishing point. Instead, each figure has his or her own relationship to the space, creating multiple perspectives. The viewer’s eye can jump about the room, much as in real life. “With digital, perspective is freed. Look at Chinese art, Japanese art—there’s no vanishing point,” says Hockney, recalling the beauty of a long Chinese scroll he recently saw. “You can get along without [one].”
The process is incredibly time-consuming, according to L.A. Louver founder and director Peter Goulds, who has done 16 shows with the artist. “Each of the photographic works is constructed from several hundred images, which are stitched together and digitally enhanced with brushlike marks. A composite of approximately 125 photographs define the interior spaces of the studio, in which individual objects and collaged figures coexist within the pictorial space. Triangulation plays an essential role in each composition,” he says. Hockney later digitally draws in (with a painting app) a number of details, including shadows.
Having previously utilized iPhones and iPads as creative tools, Hockney applauds the democratization of expression that technology has unleashed. “Everybody is a photographer now. Everybody is becoming a critic. Everybody is becoming a journalist,” he says.
The one bit of technology he doesn’t like is his hearing aids—the artist has become increasingly deaf due to a hereditary degenerative condition. “He often takes them out,” says Scheips. A famously social creature in youth and middle age, he seldom ventures out to restaurants because the noise bothers him, and rarely listens to music, one of his great loves. But, by his own account, he is perfectly content. “I have plenty of work to do,” says Hockney, who remains busy completing his portrait series. He plans to do 75 paintings, all of which will be exhibited in the summer of 2016 at London’s Royal Academy of Arts. “So I can see I could go on for an awful long time. I have a nice life.” lalouver.com.
By DEGEN PENER.