Widely renowned as Britain’s greatest living painter—a sentiment decisively affirmed by the recent opening of his comprehensive career retrospective at the Tate Britain, London in May 2017 and, subsequently, at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York—nowhere is his genius more evident than in his remarkable recreations of the familiar interiors in which he lived and worked. In Montcalm Interior with 2 Dogs, Hockney makes explicit the glorious oasis he found in his Los Angeles home, as well as the significance and tranquility this sun-dappled abode represented to an artist born and bred in the harsh North of England. Purchased in the summer of 1979, Hockney’s home on Montcalm Avenue features prominently in a number of the artist’s most iconic paintings of the late 1980s; indeed, Large Interior, Los Angeles from 1988, the sister painting to the present work, has been held in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York since the year following its execution. Both paintings depict the familiar setting of the artist’s high-ceilinged living room, the open space bursting with vibrant colors and dazzling patches of pattern; while Large Interior, Los Angeles features swaths of textural brushwork, however, the forms of Montcalm Interior with 2 Dogs are rendered with a precision and care that emphatically articulates the immense tenderness Hockney felt for his home. In the present work, two jauntily arranged chairs and an ornate chaise lounge sit atop a plush sapphire carpet, while behind, an array of framed pictures is suspended above the sinuous ebony silhouette of a piano. Adorning the walls of Hockney's sanctuary are his own personal works executed years earlier - pictures of small potted plants, a Matisse-like depiction of flowers, and even perhaps another image of chairs - a delightful arrangement of Hockney pictures in a Hockney painting, serving as a gleeful and conceptually riveting self-referential tribute to his own virtuosic creativity. Describing Hockney’s unique treatment of domestic objects, one scholar describes: “The sofas and chairs seem almost to be in conversation with each other as substitutes for the people for whom they were designed: each has its own character as a result of the stance it appears to have adopted.” (Exh. Cat., Tokyo, The Yomiuir Shimbun, David Hockney, 1989, p. 128) The artist himself reveals: “I’ve always loved chairs: they have arms and legs, like people …They’re not just empty chairs.” (Martin Bailey, “What Hockney Thinks of Van Gogh,” The Art Newspaper, October 9, 2015, n.p.) Completing this domestic paradise, the petite forms of Hockney’s two adored dachshunds greet the viewer from the center of the painting’s foreground; clearly at home, one is curled up and dozing between the two armchairs, while the other peers out to meet our gaze with two bright, curious eyes.
In its perspectival complexity, Montcalm Interior with 2 Dogs showcases the rich, saturated color application and deft handling of space that are characteristic of Hockney’s greatest paintings. With a compositional dexterity highly reminiscent of the work of Henri Matisse, Hockney subverts the viewer’s expectation of a single-perspective and three dimensional space within the picture plane, breaking with representation to create an alternate, illusionistic realm far more mesmerizing than that of the mimetic world. Visually evocative of the flattened interior anatomy of Henri Matisse’s Red Interior: Still Life on a Blue Table from 1947, the fluidity of the carefully balanced scene before us is disrupted and dynamized by flat geometric expanses of electric orange and turquoise brushstrokes that, like the charged squiggles of patterned wallpaper in the earlier Post-Impressionist masterwork, resolve to indicate the spatial details of the space within the canvas. By making visible the neat parallel strokes of his brush, Hockney successfully indicates the woodwork of the floor and porch beyond, allowing the viewer to trace his movement outward into the far corners of the space; as described by the artist himself, this effect encapsulates his desire to “create a painting where the viewer’s eye could be made to move in a certain way, stop in certain places, move on, and in doing so, reconstruct the space across time for itself.” (Lawrence Weschler, “A Visit with David Hockney,” in Exh. Cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, David Hockney, 1988, p. 93) To the left, a verdant flurry of curling leaves and stems peer through the crisscrossing patterns of the blue porch, while above, bright sunlight shines through a web of intersecting ceiling beams, the two eliminating any distinction between the interior space and the natural world: one writer describes, “As befits an image of a southern California house, interior and exterior space seem to interpenetrate each other, with walls serving both as enclosures and as invitations to the lush garden beyond and sky above.” (Exh. Cat., Tokyo, The Yomiuir Shimbun, David Hockney, 1989, p. 128)
At once highly personalized and deeply rooted in art historical tradition, Montcalm Interior with 2 Dogs exemplifies Hockney’s ability to merge the painterly techniques of the past with his own distinctive, inventive, and remarkably intimate experience of reality. Painting with vivid brushstrokes and vibrant, raw colors that clearly evoke the post-Impressionist masters whom he greatly admired, Hockney flattens space to enhance the emotional and physical immediacy of the viewing experience. Here, the sweeping lines of Montcalm Interior with 2 Dogs evoke Vincent van Gogh’s The Night Café, created precisely a century earlier; one scholar notes: “The language of Cubism continues to serve Hockney well in constructing this vortex-like space and also in supplying devices, such as the imitation wood-graining that describes the parquet floor, which bring into focus yet again the questions of illusion and artifice that have sustained Hockney’s interest for nearly thirty years.” (Exh. Cat., Tokyo, The Yomiuir Shimbun, David Hockney, 1989, p. 128) Replacing the flickering lamplight of the 1888 painting with that radiant, ever-present sunshine of Los Angeles, Hockney infuses Montcalm Interior with 2 Dogs with a profound specificity of place. Recalling the vibrant and riotously patterned stagesets he had created for the Los Angeles Music Center Opera’s production of Tristan Und Isolde just a year earlier, the juxtaposing planes of the artist’s living room appear to fit together and move apart with the ease and intricacy of a continuously evolving backdrop. Drawing the viewer towards the sunlit spaces and open chairs like a welcome guest, Montcalm Interior with 2 Dogs blurs the line between reality and memory to create a perfect, exquisite rendering of a beloved home.
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