Balls on the walls

Sure, David Hockney's work is nice, but that doesn't make it easy

And just as he embraces the methods of artists who came before, he absorbs technological advances, employing fax machines and photocopiers and Polaroid cameras as readily as he does paint. What happens if one approaches cubism not with a paintbrush but rather with a camera? Fascinating things, as you can see at the Pillsbury show.

The giant photocollages of landscapes and conversations and quiet moments scatter and splay out over walls with controlled chaos. Dozens of smaller photos overlap to produce a massive, cohesive picture of a whole city block in Tokyo or a panoramic slice of Yosemite Valley or even a naked girlie bombshell. This is traditional cubism shaking hands with modern science: Capture different angles with the camera and let them work together. The nude (titled simply "Nude, 17th June 1984") is a mighty and tongue-in-cheek end to Picasso's initiative. The woman's face, thighs, belly, gaze -- all of it refracted and shattered and then brought back together to better communicate the essence of the moment. It has far more in common with, say "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" than with any photograph (and is, in many ways, just as derisive toward its subject). That this method is somewhat dated doesn't erase the fact that 15 years ago it was wholly new, or that it's still entertaining to look at. The same technique used for "Fredda Bringing Ann and Me a Cup of Tea, April 16 1983" epitomizes an underlying Hockney theme: warmth, ease, the subject of friendship and intimacy, all in a sunny setting. A large deck descends into a massive back yard populated by a Hockney posse, whose postures and props tell several stories, including one of a hapless film crew on the sidelines confounded by the over-relaxed manner of their host.

Artists have never emulated Hockney with the enthusiasm buyers display when faced with his work; he is essentially a dealer's wet dream. If this is because his work is ever-approachable (a much more sensible thing to hang above your fireplace than, say, an ungainly Bruce Nauman video installation or a lurid Cindy Sherman diorama) and most artists mistrust anything too easy, it's also in spite of Hockney's discrimination. Approachable, yes. There are works in Visions and Revisions that will have you thinking of Hallmark cards ("The Drooping Plant") and children's illustrations ("Stanley at 8 Weeks").

Hockney cops to his Matisse/Picasso stylings, and does it very well in the six panels of "Black Plant on Table, April 1986."
Hockney cops to his Matisse/Picasso stylings, and does it very well in the six panels of "Black Plant on Table, April 1986."
There's more to the affable "Celia With Guest" than meets the untrained eye.
There's more to the affable "Celia With Guest" than meets the untrained eye.

Details

Pillsbury Peters Fine Art,
2913 Fairmount St.

(214) 969-9410

Through February 26

But again, Hockney's too smart to let his work be dismissed that easily. The "droop" of the plant looks swiped on with paint after the fact, but it's actually an integral part of the print. And the hefty little shape of Stanley the pooch is overlapped by subtle, swirling gesture lines that imply far more movement than any standard portrait. It's the same Hockney who descended quietly on Los Angeles and then dominated it; he has used illusion and an unexpectedly polite approach to conquer life and art. Just beneath the unassuming surface is one of the ballsiest artists of our time.

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