New York, The Alan Gallery, David Hockney, September - October 1964, cat. no. 1 (exhibition checklist)
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery (and traveling), David Hockney: Paintings, Prints and Drawings, 1960 – 1970, 1970, cat. no. 64.1, p. 42, illustrated
Minneapolis, Walker Art Center; Mexico City, Museo Rufino Tamayo; Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art; Fort Worth Art Museum; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; London, Hayward Gallery, Hockney Paints the Stage, November 1983 – September 1985, p. 32, illustrated in color
Los Angeles County Museum of Art; New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art; London, Tate Gallery, David Hockney: a Retrospective, February 1988 - January 1989, cat. no. 21, p. 134, illustrated in color
Paris, Centre Pompidou, Los Angeles 1955 - 1985, The Birth of an Art Capital, March - July 2006, pl. 13 (1964 section), p. 136, illustrated in color (incorrectly titled Californian Collector)
David Hockney is an inspired observer and the sights, people and experiences of his well-traveled life have led to the creation of his greatest paintings, none more so than his early masterpiece, Calfiornia Art Collector. Hockney captures a specific time and place in a painting that reveals much about himself, the 1960s and the intimate world of art collecting.
California Art Collector was the second painting by Hockney from his first, momentous visit to Los Angeles and is the first painting to convey the dramatic impact his new surroundings would have on his career. Hockney's choice of subject is only the most obvious development, as this new environment would also subtly affect his aesthetic choices of materials and technique. With this painting, Hockney first used acrylic paints and with a new sense of light and color, he depicted his first swimming pool while synthesizing his first impressions of the affluence and glamour of Beverly Hills.
Hockney had long been enthralled with Los Angeles. He loved to visit exotic places and sunny climates, such as Egypt, but Los Angeles was the city he most wished to visit. To add to the universal sense of beaches, sunshine, wealth and leisure, Hockney's interest was also inspired by the homo-erotic magazine Physique Pictorial, published in Los Angeles and collected by Hockney in Britain. In 1963, he had earned enough from the sale of his latest show at the Kasmin Gallery in London to plan a trip to the United States in December of that year.
Ignoring recommendations that he go to San Francisco, Hockney flew to Los Angeles. ``California did affect me very strongly ....I instinctively knew I was going to like it. And as I flew over San Bernardino and saw the swimming pools and the houses and everything and the sun, I was more thrilled than I have ever been in arriving in any city.'' (Hockney cited in Exh. Cat., London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, David Hockney, Paintings, Prints and Drawings, 1960-70, 1970, p. 11). Hockney had arranged to exhibit paintings created during his visit at the Alan Gallery in New York so he quickly rented a studio and visited American art supply stores. Having briefly experimented with acrylics in London, Hockney found the American acrylics superior in texture and color. He could now use acrylics to his satisfaction, and their quick drying properties allowed him the freedom to focus on one work at a time, rather than shifting from one slow-drying oil painting to another.
Hockney also enjoyed the casual familiarity in the Los Angeles community of artists and was quickly introduced around, leading to the direct inspiration of California Art Collector. ``After I'd been there a couple of months, Kasmin came out on his first visit to California, to see me and to see collectors. I went with him to visit the collectors. I'd never seen houses like that. And the way they like to show them off! They were mostly women – the husbands were out earning the money. They would show you the pictures, the garden, the house. So I then painted a picture, California Art Collector in February 1964: it's a lady sitting in a garden with some art. The only specific thing is the swimming pool, painted from an advertisement for swimming pools in the Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times. The houses I had seen all had large comfortable chairs, fluffy carpets, striped paintings, and pre-Columbian or primitive sculptures and recent three-dimensional work. As the climate and the openness of houses (large glass windows, patios, etc.) reminded me of Italy, I borrowed a few notions from Fra Angelico and Piero della Francesco.'' (David Hockney, Hockney by Hockney, New York, 1976, p. 98)
Later in his career, Hockney would work on commissions for stage productions but his innate preference for foreshortened spatial design and symbolic use of `props' was a gift that served him well early in his career as splendidly demonstrated in California Art Collector. As in his `Domestic Interiors' painted in London in the previous year, Hockney chose objects and settings with great acuity to depict his subjects with an economy that ironically allowed for greater and more complex interpretation. In the present work, the elimination of architectural feature and detail brings California's most seductive attributes to play in the painting: the sun and the vast expanse of sky and vista, with the glories of the West Coast Mecca symbolized by the fantastical rainbow. The great symbol of California's outdoor pleasures, as well as the wealth and prosperity of its citizens, is of course the swimming pool – a very exotic and sumptuous object for a young man from London. From this initial depiction in California Art Collector, swimming pools would play a central role in Hockney's oeuvre, evolving from a sign of comfort and affluence to a formal device for the depiction of light and reflective surfaces.
Just as the bright pinks and blues hint at the affects of the sunlight and vivid colorations of the California life-style, they also reflect the influence of the Medieval masters cited by Hockney. The conception of space, flattened use of light, jewel-like colors and the primitive figuration all have associations with the works of Fra Angelico, Giotto and della Francesco. But they also have a close relation to Hockney's great affinity for Egyptian art from his trip there in 1963. Hockney's figures are often shown in flattened profile as in the present portrait and earlier works such as The First Marriage (The Marriage of Styles) 1962, adding Hockney to the many modern artists who found inspiration in more primitive art. Hockney had seen the great retrospective of Picasso at the Tate Gallery in 1960 and the protagonist in California Art Collector exhibits the same sort of primitive mask as in Picasso's tribal-inspired women. The inclusion of the primitive sculpture in profile directly behind the woman is an intentional acknowledgement of this inspiration.
The initial impression of California Art Collector is as a study of a specific place and time of great affluence and surface charm. A fortunate woman is surrounded by her symbols of comfort and success, none more important to Hockney and his viewers than the objects of art that she possesses. On the surface, there are symbols of status and discernment, but they are also references to other more subtle purposes. Collectors of art have a symbiotic relationship with the creators of art who themselves are the collectors of impressions and inspirations. Paul Melia has discussed Hockney's frequent depiction of people in museums or among the art and objects they possess. ``Beneath Hockney's jocular comparisons between human beings and ancient artworks is a recognition of death-in-life, or, from the viewpoint of the Egyptian head, life-in-death. A little of the life of one creeps into the other, and some of the rigor mortis of ancient Egypt enters living people. ...This kind of interpretation helps to explain why Hockney liked to paint people with artworks they collect, and sometimes to search for likenesses between them. The woman in California Art Collector .. is engaged in dialogue with what Hockney describes as a William Turnbull sculpture, but a Turnbull made, in actuality, sufficiently anthropomorphic for dialogue between the incongruous couple to seem plausible. (Paul Melia, ed., David Hockney, Manchester, 1995, p. 104-105)
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