Los Angeles

David Hockney

L. A. Louver Gallery

With his Polaroid photomontages, David Hockney rescued Cubism from the living grave to which excessive reverence and often sullen reference were busily consigning it. Now, with the help of office copying machines, he has plucked the visions we have of Henri Matisse’s and Raoul Dufy’s sun-struck Nice out of nostalgia’s amber, and out of France, and transposed them to Southern California. The 35 “Home Made Prints” that were in this exhibition, in editions ranging from 25 to 60 photocopies, are irresistible for quite a lot of reasons.

First of all, they fling fistfuls of Tinker Bell dust into our “age of mechanical reproduction,” which many would have us believe a naturally somber affair. According to Hockney, that age, as it has been polemically defined, is not yet upon us, for (as he wrote in the catalogue introduction) “it’s still love and care that make a difference, even with machines.” These prints, made on Canon and Kodak copiers, tease populist and connoisseur alike. In making them, Hockney refined the technical possibilities of the world’s most instantaneous and accessible reproduction machine while addressing his usual intimist subjects (friends, interiors, easy living in Southern California) in his customary blithe style. As if he meant to slip in a further dig at pieties left and right, these prints were exhibited in an eclectic assortment of traditional, reproducible frames, each one of which was matched to a specific print.

Second, these prints do away with a lot of voodoo surrounding the printmaking process, including the snobby spells that place laurels of esteem upon artists’ heads because of the status or esoteric cachet of the printers they happen to be working with. Also, as Hockney points out, there are “no ‘artist proofs,’ ‘printer proofs,’ ‘roman numeral proofs,’ or any kind of proof that is not involved in the stages of making the print,” which eliminates the sneaky hierarchies that usually inform editions, as well as the usual “middle-people” involved.

Furthermore, the office copier is a camera/printer with special talents for the emphatically two-dimensional. It uses toner, which is ink in its irreducible, powdered-pigment form, and because of this produces an especially rich, nonreflective black—normally the bugaboo color for printers. It virtually slaps marks down, blocks color in, undiluted, layer after layer (some of these prints are the result of as many as twelve “run-throughs”), and is in short the vehicle of choice for an improvisatory style—which is what these “Home Made Prints” have.

They also give us Hockney at his silliest, wittiest, most primary-colored, and utterly charming best, the Hockney similar to the one who designed sets for the 1980 Metropolitan Opera productions of Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tirésias and L’Enfant et les sortilèges. In two of the prints Hockney’s friend Celia Birtwell, an oft-depicted muse, is easily recognizable in her personification as a canvas on an easel. For Self-Portrait, July 1986, a two-panel work, Hockney photocopied a red-and-white-striped shirt of his, which in pseudo-Cubist fashion has become perspectivally deranged in the process of being flattened by the copier lid. Mulholland Drive, June 1986, incorporates photocopies of his own drawings done on an already photocopied map of the Hollywood Hills, while The Drooping Plant, June 1986, with its nuanced textures and drooping tendrils, suggests some botanical equivalent of Man Ray’s The Rope Dancer Accompanies Herself with Her Shadows, 1916. The Dufy/ Matisse color-suffusion principle at work here is nowhere more evident than in The Red Chair, April 1986, an ingenuous quickie—and my favorite, in a roomful of fetching contenders.

Lisa Liebmann