Something New in Painting (and Photography) [and even Printing]…Continued
through March 23
LA Louver, Venice
Written by Betty Brown
The word photography–coined by Sir John Frederick Herschel–was taken from the Greek for “drawing with light.” Always savvy about his sources, David Hockney calls his newest series of works “photographic drawings.” The images continue his ongoing engagement with portraiture, but do so with yet another technological twist. Hockney depicts well-known celebrities alongside his personal (and sometimes rather anonymous) friends and family. But this time, instead of singular focus on the lone individual, he has digitally gathered them into virtual rooms that are both convincing in their realism yet intriguing, perhaps even puzzling, in the dimensionality of their spatial constructions.
Hockney has always pushed the perceived boundaries of what are considered “proper” fine art materials and processes. In his late forties, he expanded his oeuvre from traditional visual arts media–painting, drawing, and printmaking–to photographic collages that overturned the Western Cultural tradition of linear perspective. In doing so, he formally challenged historical pictorial spaces involving fixed, external points of view and mathematically calculated sets of parallel lines converging on vanishing points. (Think Pear Blossom Highway, 1986.)
In 2001, Hockney penned a fascinating book (Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters) about how artists used camera obscuras, camera lucidas, and other mechanical devices to enhance the realism of their paintings and drawings. I was particularly convinced by his arguments about French academic artist J.A.D. Ingres’ use of the camera lucida. Only a draftsman as skilled and perceptive as Hockney could analyze how the nature of Ingres’ line revealed his use of that tool.
A few years later (by which time he was in his seventies), Hockney began exhibiting “paintings” he generated on his iPhones and iPads. He deployed the two computer-driven devices to produce chromatically brilliant and conceptually engaging depictions of flowers, vases, and diversely patterned still lives. In doing so, he pioneered the fine arts use of digital technologies.
Hockney is now in his eighties. His current exhibition at LA Louver presents yet another technical expansion. The artist calls the exhibition “Something New in Painting (and Photography) [and even Printing]…Continued” and indeed it is. He has created a series of artificially constructed rooms surrounding crowds of seated people apparently looking at and speaking about Hockney paintings. The actual artworks–paintings of flowers, vases, and other ornamental arrangements–hang on the gallery walls and are simultaneously represented in the large “photographic drawings.” Other “photographic drawings” present the same, or similar, crowds of conversing viewers, but now the walls are covered with immense mirrors, reflecting the interior spaces they enclose and adding multiple depictions of the dramatis personae.
Although Hockney’s LA Louver exhibition includes several of his pencil drawing portraits (of course the one of Ed Sheeran caught my eye), the photographically rendered versions have a dimensionality that is unattainable with graphite. The artist told me that the photographic portraits were taken with 3-D cameras. Also known as stereo cameras, these tools create images that replicate human binocular vision. Hockney’s “photographic drawings” attain a dimensionality not seen in old school photographs that tend to flatten out space. His new artworks attain a depth and credibility that belies the constructed nature of the spaces he builds visually. The various “truths” of his renderings are endlessly fascinating.
At the end of my conversation with Hockney (immediately before the opening on February 7), the artist told me he was leaving LA for Amsterdam, to do a show with Van Gogh. (Of course he pronounced it the Dutch way). And then he’s travelling to Normandy to paint the wildflowers. He spoke about all the plants that will be blooming and how much he looks forward to depicting them.
As I left, I wondered what new means he would use on the French flowers. Virtual reality? AI? Some robotic machine? Knowing Hockney, it will probably be something I haven’t even heard of. And he’ll probably master it in his nineties, as he continues to produce exciting and surprising and frankly beautiful works.
In 1999, renowned dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham (b. 1919-d. 2009) introduced a whole new technological and aesthetic territory. He created a dance piece for his company members to perform with 3-D virtual avatars of themselves. I saw the performance in a tiny theater in Glendale and was overwhelmed by the realization that this creative man was expanding and enriching his already remarkable career at the formidable age of 80.
Sports fans may be impressed that Tom Brady continues playing in his 40s. But artists can continue working–and often do their best work–at twice that age. Born in 1937, David Hockney is a powerful case in point.
45 North Venice Blvd, Venice