"Seven Yorkshire Landscape Videos" (2011), the current David Hockney show at LACMA, sits in Resnick Pavilion, tucked behind the bright, geometric mobiles of Calder and Abstraction. It's a single work showcased in a small room lined with minimal seating. Every now and again, people escape the hullabaloo of the Calder preview for the serenity in here. The number of bodies fumbling towards seats in movie theater darkness fluctuates. Three people. Four people. When the crowd reaches 10-plus some stand straight-backed against the walls. The videos run on HD, LCD screens that form a grid. It's a large projection, you need to watch it in parts. Take a minute to focus on the left-hand side of the screen, then turn your head to the right. Watch the scenes shift as though you're taking in a tennis match. Or, you could pick a side and just concentrate. It's quiet inside the room as you watch the landscape unfold and change. You could become transfixed by the scene, spend minutes or more in here unaware that the afternoon is slipping into evening.
"It's really beautiful kind of going in there and watching people," says Stephanie Barron, Senior Curator of Modern Art and Head of the Modern Art Department at LACMA. "It's a very calming, almost like a zen-like, experience to be in there."
"Seven Yorkshire Landscape Videos" opened at LACMA earlier in November, around the same time that Hockney was honored alongside Martin Scorsese at the museum's Art + Film Gala. It's the first time that this piece has been exhibited in the United States. Filmed with 18 cameras that moved across Yorkshire roadside's with Hockney's car, the images presented here are so clear, so attentive to the slightest movement that they are almost too gorgeous to be real. The videos stand in stark contrast to the world around the viewers. Gone is the bustling big city boulevard that we crossed to enter the museum and the chaparral tones of the hillsides. Here, all we see are leafy shades of green speckled with the hues of wildflowers and a few stripes and smudges of earthy brown. The occasional, fleeting glimpses of a speeding car are the only moments that pull us back into reality.
Hockney, one of the most acclaimed artists of the late 20th century and present day, is British, but much of his famed work is inspired by L.A. He lived here and painted here for years and has recently returned to the city after spending a long stretch of time back in the U.K. "I think so much of David's work, particularly back to the '60s and '70s has a lot to do with out L.A. is imaged internationally," says Barron. "Whether it's the lawn being sprinkled, the swimming pools, whether it's the lifestyle in L.A., these images of his work -- paintings, prints, photographs, photo collages -- these images are in a way how L.A. has been seen internationally."
She adds, "He's probably the artist most identified with an image of Los Angeles."
Recently, though, Hockney's work has been concerned with the U.K. His documentation of Yorkshire landscapes is exemplary of that. One couldn't help wonder, though, if there was more to Hockney and Los Angeles than the use of the city as a setting in so many of his older paintings. To answer that question, I talked to Peter Goulds, founder of the Venice gallery L.A. Louver. Goulds and his gallery have worked consistently with Hockney since the late 1970s.
Goulds explains his point from a top floor office inside L.A. Louver. There's a view of Venice Beach from his window. In the distance, Pacific blue forms a sharp horizon with the blue of the post storm sky. He points out the rays of late afternoon light that moves from window to window as we speak. "I can say this because I came here as a visitor too," says Goulds, his British accent emphasizing that point. "You're blown away immediately by the light. If you come from London, or Europe in general, the light captures you and brings you into its fold, if you will."
It's something that an L.A. native could certainly take for granted. The light here is intense and that can change one's perception of just about everything. "Color gets heightened in this, or you feel you have the license to heighten color," he says. Light can alter shapes and space too, he says, and "the stylization of form."
Hockney's most obviously L.A. works came during the latter half of the 20th century. There are the poolside paintings, like "Picture of a Hollywood Swimming Pool" (1964), the prevalence of modern homes, such as the one seen in "Beverly Hills Housewife" (1966). The car lot and palm tree of "Santa Monica Boulevard" (1979) is unmistakably Los Angeles, as is the home perched above the ocean in "Malibu House" (1988). Beyond that, L.A. is in the shadows that his figures cast against the bright hues of the painting. It's in the way people and objects can blur at the edges, as though you're looking at them through the thick air of an August heatwave.
Goulds and Hockney first came into contact in the late 1970s. Goulds opened L.A. Louver in early 1976. " The ethos of the gallery was to work with Los Angeles based artists, but with a program that had an international profile," says Goulds. It took a few years to get to that point. A year or two after that, Goulds embarked on a mission to gather "every graphic work that David Hockney had ever made," or, at least, ones that they knew existed. Back then, Goulds says, Hockney's images were frequently associated with Los Angeles, but weren't shown in the city. That lent a certain sense of significance to the project. Within 18 months, Goulds had secured "one copy of virtually everything." That includes rare works that dated back to Hockney's time as a student. When Hockney heard about the show, he contacted Goulds for a meeting. That led to the artist contributing some newer drawings to the exhibition. On opening night, he was the first person to arrive to the party. "He's very punctual," says Goulds. That was the start of a working relationship that has endured over decades. Since then, L.A. Louver has hosted numerous Hockney shows. Goulds can't recall exactly how many they have done at this point. Inside the gallery's archives, there are shelves from floor to ceiling dedicated to Hockey's work with L.A. Louver.
Now that Hockney is back in L.A., Goulds sees him frequently. During the time that the artist was stationed in the U.K., the gallerist would visit at least once a year. Goulds has loads of photos documenting Hockney's recent work in landscapes. He flips through the files on his iPad as he explains the artist's journey. Over the span of a few years, the artist moves from paints, including water colors,to digital tools. There are experiments with Photoshop. There are the iPhone and iPad drawings that Hockney sent Goulds. There are enough of those to fill multiple gallery exhibitions. These are precursors to the videos.
Thinking back to the videos, Goulds' comments on Hockney's L.A. influence made sense, even in regards to a piece that has nothing to do with this city. With 18 cameras used to create an images that were so clearly defined, there's a brightness to the work that mirrors his paintings of Los Angeles. Light seeps through the foliage, capturing the quiet rustle of breeze against the flowers and big gusts of wind hitting the trees. In this light, the landscapes appear vast, maybe even endless, and every movement of the Yorkshire flora brings out new shapes in the spaces in between the greenery.