T he works by David Hockney at auction from the Pynoos Collection offer a window into a number of critical, transitional periods in the artist’s career. They tell their own story of artistic inquiry, curiosity and discovery.
The earliest work, Hockney’s colored pencil drawing, Picasso Masks (1974), is directly related to the artist’s Simplified Face State I & II—colored etchings made in Paris. Picasso’s death at 91 in April 1973 had shocked Hockney, who had always hoped to meet the great artist. Instead, he was invited to participate in an “homage to Picasso:” a print portfolio that featured work by nearly seventy other artists including Frank Stella, Jim Dine, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and Robert Rauschenberg. This project afforded him the opportunity to work with Picasso’s master printer, Aldo Crommelynk, and resulted in a dozen etchings including The Student: Homage to Picasso (1973), featuring a self-portrait of Hockney holding a large portfolio and standing next to a bust of a young Picasso atop a classical pedestal.
The other colored pencil drawing, Hockney’s Henry (1975), features his good friend, New York curator Henry Geldzahler, in profile, reading while seated in a slipper chair at Hockney’s Paris apartment. They had been friends since 1963 when they first met in New York during Hockney’s second visit to America. The next day actor and photographer Dennis Hopper captured Hockney and Geldzahler with Warhol and young New York painter Jeff Goodman (all smoking) in a now-iconic image taken on the Harlem set of the television show Naked City. Hockney and Geldzahler remained close, even traveling companions, for the next two decades. During the 1980s Geldzahler made frequent visits to Los Angeles where, thanks to Hockney, he came to know Morry and Rita Pynoos.
Ravel’s Garden with Glow (1980) was the first Hockney work to enter the Pynoos collection. This critically acclaimed painting of the opera stage began in 1974 when director John Cox asked him to design the sets and costumes for Igor Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress for the Glyndebourne Festival near Sussex, England. That successful collaboration was followed in 1978 by Hockney’s designs for the festival’s production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. In 1981 Hockney created two triple-bill productions for the Metropolitan Opera. The Pynoos’ work was painted after the premiere, inspired by the garden scene in Ravel’s L'Enfant et les Sortilege. Soon after the Pynoos’s purchased the painting, Hockney supervised its installation their home, including the red and blue theater lights that transform the painting as it was experienced in the opera house.
Hockney’s novel and inventive opera productions caught the eye of Walker Art Center Director Martin Friedman, who keenly perceived a connection between the artist’s use of theatrical devices in his paintings, drawings, and prints of the sixties and seventies, and his theater work. The result was Hockney Paints the Stage—a large traveling exhibition featuring specially designed maquettes and large-scale installations created by Hockney of all seven productions, as well as a survey of three decades of paintings and drawings related to the stage. (His installation of L’Enfant et lest Sortilege for the show is now in the permanent collection of the Honolulu Museum of Art.)
During the early 1980s, while immersed in theater work, Hockney also began to question the veracity of photography’s claim on being the most vivid depiction of reality. In 1982 Centre Pompidou curator Alain Sayag suggested an exhibition of his photographs; in order to locate the negatives to print works for the exhibition, they took Polaroids of the artist’s albums of past images. Left with a case of un-used Polaroid film, Hockney was inspired to create a new, large body of Polaroid collages that challenged the strangle hold of monocular scientific perspective that had characterized traditional still photography. Eventually, feeling constricted by the white borders of Polaroid prints, he pushed his aesthetic exposition further with increasingly larger 35mm photocollages of subjects such as the Brooklyn Bridge and Grand Canyon (both 1982). The culminating work was Pearblossom Highway I & II (1986) now in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum.
Hockney’s photo explorations brought him back to painting and printmaking in the mid-1980s with a body of work in various media he called “moving focus.” Drawing on cubist technique and Chinese scroll painting, as well as lessons taken from his photocollages, he believed “the viewer’s eye could be made to move in certain ways, stop in certain places, move on, and in so doing reconstruct space across time for itself.” His massive painting A Visit with Christopher and Don, Santa Monica Canyon (1984); (6 x 20 feet) and Self-Portrait on the Terrace of the same year (7 x 10 feet), both reveal Hockney’s handling of “moving focus” techniques. Like his portraits of Don Bachardy and Christopher Isherwood in A Visit with Christopher and Don, the Self-Portrait on the Terrace (1981), finds both Hockney and Gregory Evans “rendered transparently.” The self-portrait involves the viewer in simultaneously experiencing the dynamic tension between the painting’s two subjects, while still taking in the garden landscape panoramically. Hockney’s doubling profile self-portrait—one looking out to Evans huddled in a fetal position on a bed, the other despondently turned away—expands the element of time experienced by the viewer. Meanwhile the reverse perspectival lines of the artist’s blue terrace flip the vanishing point towards the viewer, rather than disappearing into the distance. In ensuing decades, Hockney frequently cast his gaze on his blue terrace for paintings, drawings and iPad drawings, but never again in such a deeply personal manner.
Hockney’s Caribbean Tea Time screen (1987) in the Pynoos collection also comes from Hockney’s “moving focus” period. Again, he here reverses the vanishing point, while integrating the lush outer tropical landscape with the intimate grouping of rattan chairs around the tea table in a shaded alcove. The cubist construction of intersecting multi-colored planes and patterns representing water and foliage is further enhanced by the fragmented, movable four-panel wood frame that mimics spatial devices within the work.
In 1986, inspired by the advent of inexpensive color copying machines a few years earlier, Hockney created his Home-Made Prints series. Canon had just come out with a PC copying machine with changeable color cartridges. Realizing it was both a camera that “photographed” flat surfaces and a means of reproduction, Hockney sent a single sheet through the machine multiple times using a variety of “plates” (a variety of paper sheets on which Hockney drew with pen and brush marks as well as collaged printed textures). He also had archival paper cut to standard copying machine sizes and composed multiple sheets into, larger works. Then employing a larger Kodak copying machine with a particularly rich black toner, he used the two machines to create the Home-Made Prints. The Pynoos collection of Home-Made Prints is exceedingly rare in that it comprises the original suite of 33 prints as included in the 1986 Andre Emmerich exhibition in New York and memorialized with an exhibition catalogue.
Having realized during the process of creating the Home-Made Prints that commercial printing could also be used as an “artist’s medium;” over the next several years he would provide several newspapers and magazines with the “home-made” plates for them to print in the commercial four-color process. This includes A Bounce for Bradford, a double page insert in Hockney’s hometown newspaper The Bradford Telegraph and Argus in 1987.
The introduction of fax machines during this period also inspired Hockney to send original, “faxed” artwork to friends such as the Pynoos’, seizing on the machine’s ability to quickly transmit documents, or even better, artwork, throughout the world. In 1989, the same year he executed the Pynoos’ Still Life (Breakfast with Stanley in Malibu), Hockney created a site-specific work entirely of faxed pages—144 in all—entitled Tennis for his friend Jonathan Silver’s Salts Mill Gallery in Yorkshire.
Ian Watching Television (1987) was also painted during this dynamic era of exploration for Hockney. The then-young subject, artist Ian Falconer, was working with Hockney at the time on the designs for the Los Angeles Opera’s production of Tristan und Isolde. He was also living next door to Hockney in the Hollywood Hills. Busy days working in the studio were often followed by dinner and a movie, usually chosen from Hockney’s large library of classic films on video and laser disc or at other times a new release brought by one Hollywood friend or another. Hockney, who would decades later make multi-panel digital films of the Yorkshire landscape, criticized most video art of the era as “bringing its time to you”—a polite way of saying they were generally boring. Conversely, Hockney’s feeling that you bring your own time to a painting is evident in this portrait of Ian sitting in Hockney’s den watching a movie on television while smoking a cigarette. Falconer’s changing leg placement underscores the passage of time while gazing at the white light of the television screen. Meanwhile, Hockney places Falconer’s red converse sneakers firmly at the bottom of the picture, bringing the subject forward towards us. The sightlines of Ian’s gaze towards the television converge into the void.
Among all this impassioned artmaking and energetic exploration, the decade of the 1980s was also dominated by the devastation brought on by the AIDS epidemic which claimed the lives of dozens of Hockney’s friends and acquaintances. In 1989 he made several Pretty Plant Paintings as gifts to friends with AIDS. Blue Pot of Purple Flowers is a closely related work. It is fitting that this last Hockney to enter the Pynoos collection is also a token of friendship. Their friendship with Hockney would continue for the rest of their lives, Morry and Rita surrounded by a deeply personal collection of Hockney’s creations from a fruitful and diverse era of prodigious work.