David Hockney Celebrates Birthday Exhibit at Getty

By Laurie Rosenthal
Staff Writer

Englishman David Hockney is one of the most revered names in modern art.

Los Angeles has been his home—off and on—since the 1960s, and figures prominently in some of his work. From the twists and turns of Mulholland Drive to the lush, vibrant colors of his many pool paintings, Hockney spent decades capturing the perfect Southern California lifestyle.

Currently, there are Hockney exhibitions in Italy, France and England. In honor of his recent 80th birthday, the Getty Center has mounted “Happy Birthday, Mr. Hockney.”

The exhibit encompasses the journey that has been Hockney’s lifework in self-portraits and photographs, including collages and composites.

Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum, addressed journalists and guests one beautiful summer evening in the main courtyard.

Pearblossom Hwy., 11 – 18th April 1986, #2; David Hockney (British, born 1937); California, United States; April 11-18, 1986; Chromogenic print; 181.6 × 271.8 cm (71 1/2 × 107 in.); 97.XM.39

A sprightly Hockney sat close by, unassumingly, leaning on his cane, engaged in the proceedings, wearing a white newsboy cap, striped cardigan and tennis shoes.

“His work, I do think, appeals to very basic human instincts and the importance for us of people, and of places, and our response to beauty,” Potts said. “His way of making images brings people joy and pleasure, which is not something you can take for granted in contemporary art these days.”

Though he received a traditional art education at the Royal College of Art, Hockney has always embraced new technologies and approaches to his work. He employed both fax and Xerox machines to create artwork. Early on, he saw the potential of the iPad as an art medium. In 2012, the Yorkshire native was appointed a member of the Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth II. Hockney’s far-reaching influence shows up in unexpected places. His pool paintings, for example, influenced the fashion giant Escada’s 2017 resort collection.

Some interesting Hockney tidbits discussed during the press preview included the artist’s penchant for wearing mismatched socks, and how he likens his photo collages to drawing with photographs.

Co-curated by Julian Brooks and Virginia Heckert, “Happy Birthday, Mr. Hockney” is divided into two sections: self-portraits and photographs.

Heckert, responsible for the photography portion of the show, described some of Hockney’s reasoning and technique. There are many fine details in each work, and Heckert’s explanations helped place the images in context with Hockney’s ever-evolving style and interests.

Photography was originally a hobby for Hockney, who began taking pictures of family, friends and vacations in the 1960s. Within about 20 years, he had approximately 30,000 photographs.

In 1982, Hockney began using a Polaroid camera. According to Heckert, in three months alone, he went through $12,000 worth of film.

Subjects of these labor-intensive Polaroid composites included Hockney’s home, pool, patio furniture and friends. One such image, “Nicholas Wilder Studying Picasso. Los Angeles 24th March 1982,” shows Wilder sitting outside reading a book that is opened to a picture of a Pablo Picasso self-portrait. Hockney created the image by putting 112 Polaroids together, leaving slight gaps between each photo. It is a refreshingly unique way of looking at a subject.

11 1/2 X 10 1/4″

Hockney experimented with light and shadow in away that makes the photographs appear more animated and suggest the passage of time. He also came to the conclusion that photography could be used as “a tool with which to draw and to create a different way of observing the world,” Heckert said.
In Jerry Diving Sunday Feb. 28th 1982, Hockney painstakingly lines up a series of Polaroids so there is fluidity in addition to keeping all the details accurate, such as the movement of the diver and water, shadows from trees and how the sun moves across the yard.

The influence of Cubism—most notably Picasso—is evident in Still Life Blue Guitar 4th April 1982.

“It is very Cubist in the way that it fractures space and time, and leads the eye through the composition, through the various details, and gives you a sense that you are experiencing this simple still life over the course of time,” Heckert said.

Arguably, the pièce de résistance is Pearblossom Hwy., 11–18th April 1986, #2, a large collage that has been in the Getty’s collection for 20 years and only exhibited twice before.

Pearblossom Hwy is made up of a multitude of prints, and depicts life on the road that runs through Palmdale. Each detail is meticulously captured: blue sky, cacti, signage, mountains in the distance and discarded trash. It clearly evokes an aspect of life in Southern California.

Hockney spent 10 days shooting, and the final image has approximately 800 pictures, including roughly 200 for the sky alone. He photographed everything close up, which helps make the final image feel more accessible to the viewer.

Hockney’s love of exploration is evident, and the self-portraits showcase the various media he has used throughout his life, including pencil, charcoal, oil, watercolor, photography and, more recently, iPad drawings.

David Hockney at the Getty Museum.

Housed on a different floor from the photos, the self-portraits begin with a pencil drawing made while Hockney was a 17-year-old art student, and culminate with images created on his iPad at age 75. Each is a piece of the puzzle that is David Hockney’s life. The self-portraits have never been sold. 

According to curator Brooks, Hockney’s traditional art-school training helped make him “a contemporary artist who can really draw.”

In the modest yet comprehensive exhibition, Hockney’s well-known red-striped shirt is represented, as is a “pair” of different socks. One pencil drawing shows him cupping his ear, alluding to the fact that he was losing his hearing.

David Hockney
“Nicholas Wilder Studying Picasso. Los Angeles 24th March 1982.”
Composite polaroid
48 1/2 x 26 1/2″
© David Hockney
Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt

“This has been a really fun exhibition to do because it’s just a microcosm of David Hockney’s career, and his life, and his personality in many ways. I hope it encapsulates him,” Brooks said.

Chinese brush painting inspired Self Portrait with Red Braces, a watercolor that is Brooks’ favorite image in the exhibit.

“It is just flowing,” he said. 

Hockney was an instant fan of the iPad, which was released in January 2010. “By April of that year, he was already sending iPad drawings and paintings to his friends, and just really embracing it,” Brooks said. Hockney liked the options the device offered, such as being able to draw something and then manipulate its size, and creating vivid colors.

The four iPad drawings that close out the section are the perfect complement to the first image, made nearly 60 years earlier. We see a man who is unapologetic and accepting, and who surely has plenty of stories he could tell his teenage self-hanging on a nearby wall.

David Hockney
“Self Portrait, 20 March 2012”
iPad drawing printed on paper, mounted on Dibond
Exhibition Proof 1
50 x 37 1/2″
© David Hockney
Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt

“Hockney’s work has continued to evolve in unpredictable and experimental ways for more than six decades,” director Potts said. “At 80, he is as young an artist as he has ever been.”

For more information, visit www.getty.edu.

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