David Hock­ney and Ed­ward Hop­per

Prestige Hong Kong - - CONTENTS -

If Bri­tish artist and icon David Hock­ney were con­sid­ered a brand, then two sig­na­ture mo­tifs or codes would be im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent; his use of glis­ten­ing swim­ming pools and of the dou­ble-por­trait de­vice as a tech­nique. Both of which make Por­trait of an Artist (Pool with Two Fig­ures) – from 1972, sell­ing later this month at Christie’s 20th Cen­tury Week in New York – some­thing of an art mo­ment; it’s like Chanel auc­tion­ing the in­gre­di­ents for No. 5 per­fume, and the se­cret of its orig­i­nal type­face. The paint­ing – which on a re­cent view­ing at H Queen’s in Cen­tral was re­vealed to be larger and squarer than one imag­ines – is lauded as one of the mas­ter­pieces of the mod­ern era; it in­vokes a graphic-de­signer’s eye for com­po­si­tion, an il­lus­tra­tor’s tech­nique, the pre­ci­sion of a pho­to­graph and a painter’s sen­si­tiv­ity to colour. It con­veys the essence of the sun-drenched Cal­i­for­nia good life that in­spired Hock­ney when he first ar­rived from Lon­don. Ul­ti­mately, it views like ac­com­plished sofa-art of the high­est or­der, or the “lifestyleism” school of art. But by month’s end it may ac­quire an­other moniker. “Come Novem­ber, Por­trait is poised to be­come the most valu­able work of art by a liv­ing artist ever sold at auc­tion,” de­clares Alex Rot­ter, co-chair­man post­war and con­tem­po­rary art, at Christie’s, of the work. Its es­ti­mate hov­ers at

If Hock­ney’s art is happy, then Hop­per’s feels sad, con­tem­pla­tive: Hock­ney’s air, Hop­per’s stare

around US$80 mil­lion; the cur­rent auc­tion record for any liv­ing artist is held by Jeff Koons’s Bal­loon Dog (Or­ange), which Christie’s New York also sold for US$58.4 mil­lion in 2013. Hock­ney, the en­fant ter­ri­ble of the avant-garde, stud­ied at Lon­don’s Royal Col­lege of Art and moved to Los An­ge­les. Like Amer­i­can artist Ed­ward Hop­per, of whom Hock­ney was a huge fan, he also spent a short time in Paris. But LA was Hock­ney’s call­ing and he fell for it at first sight in a way he hadn’t with Lon­don. “In Lon­don, I was put off by the ghost of [Wal­ter Richard] Sick­ert and I couldn’t see it prop­erly.” Co­in­ci­den­tally, Sick­ert’s nudes had in­spired Hop­per 50 years be­fore that. “Los An­ge­les was the first time I had ever painted a place,” Hock­ney said of his 1964 ar­rival in Los An­ge­les. “There were no ghosts [ironic, given Hol­ly­wood’s prodi­gious in­ven­tory of for­got­ten stars]. I re­mem­ber see­ing, within the first week, the ramp of a free­way go­ing into the air and I sud­denly thought: My God, this place needs its Pi­ranesi; Los An­ge­les could have a Pi­ranesi, so here I am.” So Hock­ney stayed, lived, loved and lost (most notably fel­low artist and his model Peter Schlesinger, the man stand­ing pool­side in Por­trait, whom he met in 1966 at UCLA) there. The paint­ing’s ease and nat­u­ral­ism be­lie the cir­cum­stances of its con­struc­tion. For a start, Hock­ney and Schlesinger were split­ting up af­ter liv­ing to­gether for five years. Se­condly, the idea for a dou­ble por­trait only oc­curred to Hock­ney when by chance he dis­cov­ered on his stu­dio floor a shot taken in Hol­ly­wood in 1966 of a per­son swim­ming – the same year he painted his fa­mous A Big­ger Splash – and an­other other of a boy star­ing at some­thing on the ground. In­trigued, Hock­ney com­bined them to great ef­fect. And hasn’t stopped. Hock­ney, with his sar­to­rial trade­mark spots, stripes, pat­terns, prints, bright shades, pas­tel hues and oddly coloured socks, has since be­come a ven­er­ated fash­ion and art pres­ence whose style has di­ver­si­fied while his ob­ses­sion with the technicalities and pro­cesses of paint­ing, and how we see and view art, has grown. He con­tin­ues to ex­ploit and en­hance the elec­tronic easel of the iPad and its Brushes app. If Hock­ney’s art is happy, then Ed­ward Hop­per’s feels sad, con­tem­pla­tive: Hock­ney’s air, Hop­per’s stare. The New York-born artist’s melan­cholic scenes of ev­ery­day life de­pict­ing the dawn of mod­ernism and its sub­se­quent un­der­cur­rent of alien­ation are pro­found state­ments on the hu­man con­di­tion. His mo­tel rooms, empty train sta­tions, phar­ma­cies, au­tomats, bars, din­ers and cine­mas por­tray the dark side that lies be­neath the Amer­i­can dream. Spa­tial empti­ness, lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and des­o­la­tion are his predilec­tion. Yet de­spite the dark­ness, the tense am­bi­ence, there is al­ways the light; his paint­ings are suf­fused with pen­e­trat­ing beams of sun- or moon­light. Voyeurism: Hop­per had a wild mind and dis­ci­plined eye. He rode the el­e­vated rail­way in New York and looked into peo­ple’s houses. Look­ing was part of the new ur­ban liv­ing, along with cinema-go­ing, and Hop­per was ac­tive in both. Watch­ing, look­ing into spa­ces, through win­dows and build­ings, at a net­work of char­ac­ters ac­tively view­ing and be­ing viewed. French lit­er­ary the­o­rist and philoso­pher Roland Barthes once said that the dark­ness of a cinema and the recre­ational de­meanour of view­ers sur­round­ing him were more ap­peal­ing than watch­ing the film it­self. This at­ti­tude of idle “avail­abil­ity” rep­re­sented a “mod­ern eroti­cism” pe­cu­liar to the big city. Hock­ney’s LA-based work is suf­fused with some of that essence too. And the in­no­cent thrill of Hop­per’s watch­ing, and our look­ing, is never a neu­tral mat­ter of sim­ple sight. It’s not quite real and it’s fan­ta­sised, and some­what ar­ti­fi­cial. His an­gles and points of view make it ap­pear as if he’s painted from a movie-cam­era crane on a set – did Hop­per ever feel like a man stand­ing in front of his easel? His style seems made of cel­lu­loid, even. Late evening, or early morn­ing, is “the magic hour when ware­houses be­come palaces”, said painter James Whistler, and it worked for Hop­per and it worked for Hol­ly­wood in a mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial re­la­tion­ship. If Hop­per were a film he’d be: A Street­car Named De­sire; On the Wa­ter­front; Shadow of a Doubt; The Killers; Naked City; Scar­let Street; Brief En­counter; Psy­cho; Gi­ant; Days of Heaven; Paris, Texas; Rear Win­dow; Red Desert; La Notte; L’Avven­tura and L’Eclisse, Tough Guys Don’t Dance, The God­fa­ther, Blade Run­ner, Ham­mett, Pen­nies from Heaven, True Sto­ries, Blue Vel­vet, Road to Perdi­tion, Lost in Trans­la­tion and Woody Allen’s Café So­ci­ety. The di­rec­tors and cin­e­matog­ra­phers of all the above men­tioned the debt their flick­er­ing il­lu­sions owed to the works of Hop­per.

When Al­fred Hitch­cock made Psy­cho, not only did he ap­pro­pri­ate Hop­per’s haunt­ing House by the Rail­road, 1925, as his Bates Mo­tel but he told ac­tor An­thony Perkins to make his char­ac­ter Nor­man Bates like an an­i­mated fig­ure from a Hop­per paint­ing. Blade Run­ner’s di­rec­tor Ridley Scott ad­mits he was con­stantly wav­ing re­pro­duc­tions of Hop­per paint­ings un­der the noses of his pro­duc­tion team to il­lus­trate the look and mood he was af­ter on the set de­sign of his fu­tur­is­tic neonoir mas­ter­piece. Also on sale this month at Christie’s 20th Cen­tury Week is Chop Suey, 1929, de­scribed by the auc­tion house – which es­ti­mates this one at US$70 mil­lion – as Hop­per’s most im­por­tant work still in pri­vate hands. The paint­ing is based on a restau­rant the artist and his wife fre­quented at Colum­bus Cir­cle in Man­hat­tan. Adapted from the Can­tonese phrase tsap sui mean­ing “odds and ends”, chop suey re­ferred not only to a low-cost dish, but also to a pub­lic des­ti­na­tion where dif­fer­ent cul­tural el­e­ments in a mod­ern city came to­gether, a Sino-diner. In a style rem­i­nis­cent of his most fa­mous paint­ing, Nighthawks, 1942, Hop­per dis­tils the at­mos­phere – gen­der roles, so­cial iso­la­tion – of this ev­ery­day eatery into a cin­e­matic scene and does it all by in­vok­ing the his­tor­i­cal tra­di­tion of French Im­pres­sion­ists paint­ing city life. Nighthawks, which shows four peo­ple in a restau­rant on Green­wich Av­enue, has been ref­er­enced by ev­ery­one from The Simp­sons to Banksy and has a qual­ity that tran­scends lo­cale. It’s be­come like a na­tional, cul­tural flag for 20th- and 21st-cen­tury Amer­i­cana – the Star-Span­gled Ban­ner when the lights go down and the stars come out. While Chop Suey will raise the bar and is a thing of beauty, Nighthawks, if ever it comes to auc­tion, might just be­come the world’s first US$500 mil­lion or even US$1 bil­lion paint­ing. It’s epic in im­port and pre­scient, still. Amer­i­can bad-girl con­tem­po­rary per­for­mance artist and fem­i­nist Karen Fin­ley, who has given talks at the Ed­ward Hop­per House Art Cen­ter, Hop­per’s child­hood home a block from the Hud­son River in Ny­ack, where he cre­ated many paint­ings that are still ex­hib­ited there, has this to say of Hop­per: “I think Hop­per is like Shake­speare. He means some­thing to ev­ery­one.” Now there’s a mo­ment. Let the bid­ding, and dream­ing, and beauty, com­mence.


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