I've been disillusioned by David Hockney's art for quite some time. Yes, his set designs for the opera were among the best and most memorable in the history of theater. And his foray into photography resulted in a distinguished body of work, with the best of his photo collages from the 80's still bristling with energy and mischief. But I felt that something was missing in his painting of the last two decades---the colors and compositions were getting more and more razzle-dazzle but David Hockney himself---warts and all---was less and less present. The artist had morphed into a celebrity and his paintings had become a status symbol, proudly displayed in the many houses of the newly rich and famous.
And all of a sudden there's a surprise---the new exhibition of his watercolors at the L.A. Louver Gallery, where David Hockney---the artist and the person---reveals himself in a way he hasn't done before. After thirty-some years of living in L.A., he chose to spend the last two years in England. His deeply felt, melancholic landscapes of the English Countryside not only provide insight into the artist's psyche, but constitute, as well, a new step in the development of his art.
The art of watercolor is unforgiving. You have to be fast on your feet. Mistakes cannot be hidden the way it can be done with oil on canvas. Hockney's watercolors make you feel like they're happening the very moment that you're looking at them. The texture of the paper quietly seeps through pale and translucent patches of color but when the paper is left untouched, its unblemished whiteness co-mingles with the strokes of color left by the quick brush.
In a series of unusually large watercolors, David Hockney manages the impossible---having his cake and eating it, too. As an artist he is still a show off, but now in a wiser and surprisingly quieter way. His landscapes command your attention, not by shouting but mere whispering. And what an eloquent whisper it is: washes of gray autumn light; dancing raindrops bouncing in puddles of water; quiet country roads disappearing into the distant horizon. Many artists, after fifty years of art making, show in their work signs of tiredness, even irrelevance. Only a few can approach their 70's with a newly acquired sense of wisdom and acceptance and the ability to express it in their art as eloquently as David Hockney demonstrates in his new exhibition at the L.A. Louver Gallery.
A large, happy crowd gathered for the opening of his show, greeting the artist who these days appears in Los Angeles very infrequently. I wonder if his latest landscapes---so understated, so English, so decidedly low-key---would resonate with the British public as well as they do here in the land of plenty wrapped in piercing sunshine.
"David Hockney: Hand, Eye, Heart"
L.A. Louver Gallery
45 North Venice Boulevard
Through April 5