David Hockney at LACMA

82 Portraits and 1 Still-life

In an interview, the British artist David Hockney said: “I’m not bored yet. I’m still curious. I’m still excited by pictures. I say that when I’m in the studio, I feel like I’m 30. But when I leave it, I know I’m 80. So naturally, I stay in here. Wouldn’t you rather be 30?”

In 2018 the Los Angeles County Museum of Art presented an exhibition by David Hockney. It was a memorable experience that left me returning to the photographs I had taken, begging the question:  what made this exhibition so memorable? The phrase “It’s all in the presentation” summarizes the answer.

David Hockney is a British artist known for his work in pop art and portraiture. He is a versatile artist whose work ranges from painting to photography and printmaking. Hockney is best known for his bold use of color and his large-scale landscape paintings. In 1962, he started experimenting with photography and photomontage, and by 1970, he was producing a series of photo collages. His most iconic works include The Splash and A Bigger Grand Canyon. His iconic works often incorporate vibrant colors and a certain level of playfulness.

In the exhibition, there are eighty-two portraits of various people that Hockney invited to his Los Angeles studio between 2013 and 2016. On canvases measuring 48″ by 36″ (121 x 91cm), all works were done in acrylic. Hockney dedicated 20 hours of work for each portrait or about three days. It seemed that with his talent and experience, Mr. Hockney could have painted the sitters blindfolded. The figures are from different backgrounds, ages, and genders. The paintings were pleasant to look at, but none of the individual portraits took my breath away. It was only when I stepped back and looked at the entire collection that the power of the exhibit hit me.

The exhibit was unforgettable and truly captivating due to its presentation. All the paintings were of the same size, with a model posed in the same yellow armchair against a vivid blue-green background. The impact of the scene was amplified by the intense venetian-red colored walls, making the canvases appear to be almost leaping from the red background. The yellow armchair used in the center of each piece provided an iconic symbol for each painting, tying the entire exhibition together.

I wonder, would the show be as memorable as this one if it featured different works by another artist with the same precise configuration of the painting’s size and wall color? And then again, where is the line of value judgment between presentation and content; or maybe presentation is part of the content? I could go on, but I’ll stop.

January 2019