David Hockney

By Hainley, Bruce | Artforum International, November 1998 | Go to article overview
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David Hockney


Hainley, Bruce, Artforum International


L.A. LOUVER

A year ago or so, my interest in David Hockney was rekindled after seeing A Bigger Splash, a documentary made by Jack Hazan in the early '70s about Hockney (his work, his friends) and certainly one of the best films ever on a contemporary artist. It made me yearn for actual Hockneys - beachy pinks and swimming pool blues along with the exact shades (natty beiges) of Boho London. When I said this - that I was hungry for Hockney - certain supposedly with-it art-world types groaned. There is, I guess, the difficult case of Hockney, not unlike that of other artists who become as famous, if not more so, for their own image as for the ones they make. In addition to the caricature - dapper dandy (bow tie, zippy shoes, round specs, boyish do) - that precedes anything he does, there is, well, what you might call the gay thing. Along with but differently than Warhol, Hockney infused the work that made him famous from the get-go with a matter-of-fact dose of carefree homosexuality. Naked boy beauties diving into pools, lounging in the aubade sheets, showering together or alone, sprucing up various hosts' environs - at first they lent his art a casual note of scandal, though to some it now seems passe or, even worse, safe and blue-chip. The earlier period is seen as quaint, and most of his recent endeavors - flowers, dogs, landscapes - are shelved, somehow not worthy of contemplation, which is one meaning of "blue-chip."

Of course, sorting all this out would be really easy if I liked most of the recent work as much as the earlier things, if the curved stripes and the thin strip of blue sky and the plowed fuchsia fields of Double East Yorkshire, 1998, were as pre-possessing as, well, the painting from which A Bigger Splash takes its title, or Still Life on a Glass Table, a brilliant early '70s study of the erotics of banality. And where Hockney's photoworks idiosyncratically broke new ground - fracturing perspective and messing with photography's momentariness by attenuating its frozen flash across a series made into a collage - these new paintings (even the supremely daunting A Bigger Grand Canyon, a vivid sprawl of wet-clay golds, sunset reds, and desert pinks) seem satisfied with gorgeous color and a tug-of-war against the "tyranny of vanishing-point perspective.

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