Happy birthday, Mr. Hockney, happy birthday to you…

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There is a traditional, proper way to celebrate the milestone birthday of a famous artist: to organize a large, dramatic retrospective covering decades of his or her career. And that is precisely what three major museums – Tate Modern, Pompidou Centre, and The Met – have done to honor the 80th birthday of the one and only David Hockney. Currently, his retrospective David Hockney is in Paris, until the end of October. After that, it will travel to The Met in New York where it will run from late November until the end of February 2018.

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(L) David Hockney, "Self Portrait, Gerardmer, France," 1975
Chromogenic print
Photo by Richard Schmidt / Image courtesy Getty Museum
(R) David Hockney, "Self Portrait," July 1986
Homemade print on two sheets of paper
Both images © David Hockney

But here, in Los Angeles, where Mr. Hockney has lived for almost 50 years, the Getty Museum has thrown a special double-exhibition celebration to honor the artist's birthday, and all of us are invited to have an intimate look at the artist through his rarely seen self portraits and photographs.

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(L) David Hockney, "Self Portrait," 1954
Lithograph in 5 colors
(R) David Hockney, "Self Portrait with Watch," 1983
Charcoal on paper
Both images © David Hockney

Somehow, in spite of his huge popularity and commercial success, Hockney has avoided a perfected monotony in his artworks that so often affects major artists toward the end of their career (I don't want to be killed or sued, so I won't mention any names, but you probably can come up with a few, yourself…).

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(L) David Hockney, "Self Portrait," 1984
Oil on 5 canvases
(R) David Hockney, "Self Portrait with Red Braces," 2003
Both images © David Hockney

Hockney doesn't try to compliment himself in any of his self-portraits. Instead, he stares at us -- or more to the point, at himself in the mirror – judging, debating, and engaging us in this very process.

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(T) David Hockney, "Paint Trolley, LA," 1985
Collage of chromogenic prints
© David Hockney
(B) Installation shot of "David Hockney Self Portraits," 2012
iPad drawings printed on paper

To quote a statement by Timothy Potts, Director of the J. Paul Getty Museum, "Most remarkable of all has been David's relentless curiosity and inventiveness... his works remain as fresh and young today as they have ever been." Definitely, Hockney was one of the first artists who used a Xerox machine to create his artworks 30 years ago. And, over the last several years, he has embraced the iPad, using his finger as brush to create new works.

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David Hockney, "Pearblossom Hwy., 11-18th April 1986, #2, April 11-18," 1986
Collage of chromogenic prints
© 1986 David Hockney / Image courtesy Getty Museum

Most of the artworks in the exhibition belong to the artist, and some haven't been seen for years. And, that includes his most famous photographic collage, Pearblossom Hwy., acquired by the Getty in 1997 in celebration of the opening of the museum's new campus in Brentwood. This amazing collage consists of more than 700 photos, taken over several days in the desert. Just think about Hockney's other iconic images of Los Angeles pools. Intriguing that these iconic images of Southern California have been created by an artist who is both an insider and an outsider here. One is reminded of the work of another European artist, photographer Robert Frank who brought a unique fresh perspective on America in the 1950s.

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David Hockney, "Place Furstenberg, Paris," August 7, 8, 9, 1985
Collage of chromogenic prints
© David Hockney

A particular aspect of Hockney's art appeals to me: his refusal to bring his works to a formal perfection. One always feels like you are watching the artist continuing to apply brushstrokes, or adding and moving additional photos in his collages. Take a look at his collage of Place Furstenberg in Paris... everything there is moving, breathing, and I swear – dancing.

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David Hockney at the opening of 
"Happy Birthday, Mr. Hockney" at the Getty Museum, 2017
Image by Susan Morse

I trust that you have heard the expression, "the perfect is the enemy of the good." For me, this precisely describes the strength and enduring vitality of David Hockney's art. So, happy birthday, Mr. Hockney, happy birthday to you…

Banner image: David Hockney, "Self Portrait, 20 March 2012 (1219)," 2012; iPad drawing printed on paper, mounted on Dibond. 32 x 24 in; © David Hockney, courtesy of the artist.

All photographs by Edward Goldman unless otherwise indicated.



Benjamin Gottlieb