David Hockney Makes Triumphant Return to L.A. in New Venice Art Show

Stefanie Keenan
David Hockney

The famed British painter, who moved back to Los Angeles in 2013, unveils a new series of portraits and digitally created "photographic drawings" at the L.A. Louver gallery.

David Hockney is a Californian again. The influential England-born painter — who made California seem like the ultimate place to live in the 1960s with his series of famous pool paintings — moved back full-time to Los Angeles two years ago. He’d spent more than a decade living and working in Yorkshire, creating work that focused on a very different environment — the English countryside — as well as continuing to develop his work using technologies like the iPad and IPhone to create art.

On July 15 at his long-time gallery L.A. Louver in Venice, Calif., Hockney unveiled the results of his time back in L.A. His new exhibition, Painting and Photography (which had a run earlier this summer in London), drew a huge crowd, including actress Jacqueline Bisset and director Roger Corman. Among the many devotees were early collectors of his work plus a coterie of people who have sat for portraits by the artist over the years. Many of them make appearances in the new show of 36 pieces, a mix of traditionally painted portraits (including one of book publisher Benedikt Taschen) and what Hockney calls "photographic drawings." The latter — showing various groups of people scattered throughout gallery spaces and other interiors — are proof that at age 78 the artist is still innovating in fascinating ways.

For these artworks, Hockney took up-close photographs of each person in the group individually and afterward stitched them together digitally into various points in the spaces. Some details, such as the shadows, he then draws in.

As he explained earlier in the day at a morning press preview, Hockney’s intent is to break down one of the sacred dictums of Western art since the Renaissance: the need to create a realistic vanishing point in a painting. Hockney’s new work dissolves that idea. Because each photo in the work was taken separately, there are many vanishing points. The effect allows viewers to feel as if they have just entered a room as they normally do, their eyes taking in the scene and reflexively bringing different areas and people into focus as they look around. Hockney’s technique approximates that human response.

As the artist pointed out, artistic traditions in many other cultures dispense with that Renaissance imperative. "Chinese art, Persian art, Japanese art doesn’t have a vanishing point," he said. "You can get along without a vanishing point." What excites Hockney today is that visual technology, from employing multiple cameras to digitally placing together images, creates new pathways for exploring perspective. "Technological change is enormous," he said. "There’s lots and lots of new things, but it needs someone to pull it together."

Hockney isn’t likely to decamp from Los Angeles anytime soon, even though he doesn’t explore the city very often. "All I want to do is work, really. I don’t go out much. I don’t go to restaurants. I’m too deaf, really. They are too noisy," said the artist, who dressed for the press preview in a grey pinstripe suit worn with grey kicks, a skinny red tie, argyle socks and a white cap. At his home in the Hollywood Hills, which he’s owned for three decades, he is busy painting his garden and, as always, people. Next year, he’ll show 80 new portraits at London’s Royal Academy of Arts. "I’ve plenty to do, and I’m doing it." His show at L.A. Louver — his 16th at the gallery since 1978 — runs through Sept. 19.

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