Saturday, July 22, 2017

Douglas Messerli | "A Hockney Birthday Cake" (on Happy Birthday, Mr. Hockney: Self-portraits and Photgraphs at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center)

a hockney birthday cake
by Douglas Messerli

Happy Birthday, Mr. Hockney: Self-portraits and Photographs / works by David Hockney at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center / I attended the July 17th opening of the second show with Lita Barrie on July 17, 2017


Two small shows—one curated by Julian Brooks on Hockney’s self-portraits, and the second chosen by Virginia Heckert documenting his photographic experiments—constitute the Getty Museum’s “Happy Birthday, Mr. Hockney” show, a celebration of the artist’s 80th birthday on July 9th.

       One might well argue that, given the immense attention to Hockney’s work around the world (for example, a large exhibition of his work appeared at the Tate in February, is now at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and in November will open at the Metropolitan Museum of Art), these smaller gallery shows do not really provide major new insights of the artist’s work; the curators have, nonetheless, gathered major and lesser known art that nicely represents Hockney’s development in each of these artistic genres.

      In the Self-portraits room, for example, we discover once again the wonderful 1954

“Self Portrait” of the artist fashionably






David Hockney, Self Portrait, 1954 / Lithograph in five colors A. P. / 11 ½ x 10 ¼” / ©David Hockney / Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt / Collection: The David Hockney Foundation



dressed,  with a crop of dark hair that looks almost like a Turkish fez; his beautiful charcoal on paper “Self Portrait Oct. 24th, 1983”; a couple of his open-mouthed and open-eared pencil drawings from the late 1990s, are brought together with his delightfully iconic chromogenic print that captures Hockney’s habit of wearing socks of different colors. His deconstructed “Self Portrait” of 1984/1986 is joined by four of his purposely “ugly” self-portraits of 2012.

      One of my very favorites of this show, represents the artist, dressed in a black shirt, with red braces holding up a yellowish pair of pants while the artist leans forward out of the frame with paintbrush in hand, as if his bright blue eyes were challenging the viewer to acknowledge that he has broken through the barrier of the watercolor to join them in the world.

      Over the last several decades Hockney has devoted a great deal of his artistic energy to photography, moving from the early 1980s collages of single image snapshots aligned to David Hockney “Self Portrait with Red Braces” 2003 / Watercolor on paper / 24 x 18 1/8 / ©David Hockney / Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt


reveal a purposely fragmented image which, nonetheless, coheres into a far vaster landscape of overlaid collages of chromogenic prints that represent almost epic views that no single camera shot might ever have captured. Several beautiful examples of the former, including “Jerry Diving Sunday Feb. 28th 1982,” “Nicholas Wilder Studying Picasso, Los Angeles 24th March 1982,” “Still Life Blue Guitar 4th April, 1982,” and “Sun on the Pool Los Angeles April 13th 1982” join renowned larger prints such as “Place Furstenberg, Paris, August 7, 8, 9, 1985” and “Pearblossom Hwy, 11-18 April 1986.”

David Hockney Pearblossom Hwy., 11-18th April 1986, #2, April 11-18, 1986 / Chromogenic prints mounted on paper honeycomb panel / 181.6 x 271.8 cm / The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles / ©David Hockney / 97 .XM.39


      And here, too, we get marvelous glimpses into Hockney’s private life in Los Angeles in his 1982 work “My House Montcalm Avenue Los Angeles Friday, February 26th 1982,”  “Blue Terrace Los Angeles March 8th 1982,” and “Yellow Chair with Shadow Los Angeles April 18th 1982.” These collaged photographs reveal not only the kind of charmed world Hockney has lived in Los Angeles, but make it quite apparent why this man who so champions color and shadow should have spent so many of his years shuttling back and forth between his home country and the sunny landscape of  the City of Angels.

     Hockney, himself, dressed in what appeared to be a white motoring cap right out of the 1920s with white suit, looked dapper and younger than ever.

Los Angeles, July 21, 2017


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