David Hockney reinvents himself again with large-format “photographic drawing”

By Danny Karel

Hockney’s “Viewers Looking at a Ready-made with Skull and Mirrors” exemplifies his photographic drawing technique
© David Hockney assisted by Jonathan Wilkinson; Courtesy of L.A. Louver, Venice

David Hockney can draw a crowd. He only stayed for the first 10 minutes of his new exhibition “Something New in Painting (and Photography) [and Even Printing] … Continued”, but it was long enough to cause a stir.

“Did you see him?”

“Is he still here?”

“Tell me you got a picture!”

It’s hard to blame him for leaving. He’s 81, and this was his 21st solo show at Venice’s L.A. Louver gallery, where he’s been showing works since 1978. That’s a little over 40 of the 60-year career of perhaps the most celebrated artist of our time.

So, yes, it was crowded. Guests swirled around, holding cups of white wine, stopping often to consider the art which, when they did, held their attention rapt, as if caught by a spell.

On opposing walls on the first floor, two massive 9- by 28-foot works faced each other. In their frames, Hockney had created nearly identical scenes — a gallery space, like the one we were in, with three rows of chairs facing a far wall, about half of them filled with an eclectic assortment of viewers. In one painting, the viewers look upon four vibrant works, which could be found elsewhere within the actual gallery. In the opposing painting, the same viewers look upon a mirror, which reflects their faces back to them, and to us, outside of the frame. The attendants had to repeatedly remind guests to please step back.

What they found so engaging — apart from Hockney’s prodigious ability to create depth — was the way in which he had rendered the sitters and their accompanying chairs. He’s calling the technique “photographic drawing” — an involved process that produces images that look, as the name suggests, like a painterly reproduction of a photograph.

“Each of the elements that you see depicted in the picture plane, the individual chairs, etcetera, are the result of hundreds of photographs being taken of that object,” explained Elizabeth East, one of L.A. Louver’s three directors. “He kind of scans around an individual, for example, and that information is put into a computer where he can manipulate the images and positioning.”

Where a single photograph can only hope to capture a fraction of a moment, photographic drawings present a complex record of time and space. They’re also indicative of Hockney’s willingness to experiment with technology. In his 15th solo show at the gallery, “Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire 2011,” he presented a series of drawings completed on an iPad and then printed on paper.

“All roads lead to painting,” said Peter Goulds, founding director of L.A. Louver and Hockney’s longtime friend. “So if he goes off on a tangent with a gadget or two or whatever he does, it’s in order to re-inform his painting, and to find fresh ways of thinking about painting.”

Later this year, Hockney will travel to a studio in Normandy, where he will paint the arrival of spring in the French countryside. His work will also be on view in Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, where the two masters will have their art displayed concurrently.

Of L.A. Louver’s current exhibition, “David has said over and over again this is the best gallery show that he’s ever had in his life,” said Goulds. “It’s got such clarity to it. He’d had a purpose going in; he fulfilled it. He shows us through photographic drawings that new perspectives in painting can take place.”

“Something New in Painting (and Photography) [and Even Printing] …Continued” remains on view through March 23 at L.A. Louver, 45 N. Venice Blvd., Venice. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Call (310) 822-4955 or visit lalouver.com for more information.