California Color Gives Vividness To David Hockney's Life and Art

The British-born artist has been influenced by more than climate

DAVID HOCKNEY sees beyond the smog, the clogged freeways, and the chilling anonymity notorious to Los Angeles. His vision of the city is sheer delight - playfully patterned landscapes with candy-pink mountains, winding purple roads, and pristine robin's-egg-blue swimming pools.

Hockney has found his home in California, and his ebullient canvasses reflect that. In That's the Way I See It (Chronicle Books, 248 pp., $35), the sequel to ``David Hockney By David Hockney,'' his 1977 autobiography, the illustrious England-born artist writes: ``California always affected me with colour. Because of the light you see more colour, people wear more colourful clothes, you notice it, it doesn't look garish: there is more colour in life here.''

In the late '70s, Hockney left London for California. He found a house in the Hollywood Hills, and today he shuttles between this studio and another in Malibu.

Hockney's latest book features more than 300 reproductions of his work, which is in striking contrast to that in the earlier autobiography; the pieces are not only more vibrant and the mediums more varied (photography, stage design, and printmaking as well as drawing and painting), but the artist's style also seems looser, more exploratory, and less rigid about adhering to conventional rules of rendering, such as perspective.

Another noticeable difference is the scarcity of human figures in his work since about 1980. Hockney, who is homosexual, featured many drawings of male companions in his earlier book. One may suspect the change is a result of his spending more time alone than he used to (``The only creatures close to me who are very warm are my dachshunds,'' he writes), but he explains that his decision to de-emphasize people in his pictures was a conscious one. ``I have wanted the viewer to become the figure,'' he writes. ``The figure is still there but in another way entirely: not depicted, it is meant to be felt.''

Candid and conversational, insightful and introspective, the narrative in his new book was distilled from five years of recorded conversations between Hockney and his longtime literary partner, Nikos Stangos. It reveals not only the artist's thoughts about his own work, but also touches on topics ranging from his native England's ``nanny attitude'' to misconceptions about Cubism.

His convictions are profound in their simplicity and hint at a lifetime of contemplation about his craft. He says that art, at its purest level, is about sharing. ``You wouldn't be an artist unless you wanted to share an experience, a thought,'' he writes. ``I am constantly preoccupied with how to remove distance so that we can all come closer together, so that we can all begin to sense we are the same, we are one.''

He shuns art that is too serious. ``I think you can't have art without play; Picasso always understood that. I think you can't have much human activity of any kind without a sense of playfulness. I don't know of any good art that's boring, in music, poetry or painting. Isn't that why Shakespeare is so exciting?''

Hockney details his plunge into photography in the early '80s, which marked a turning point in his career. When experimenting with collages he made from Polaroid pictures, he rekindled his interest in Cubism and began to question traditional ways of seeing.

``What I have thought about the most in the last years has been this question of the photograph and depiction, representation and abstraction,'' he writes, explaining his view that there's no difference between depiction and abstraction since art expresses the views of its creator and is, therefore, always abstract to a certain degree.

At times, Hockney seems to ramble redundantly, and anecdotal snippets about his personal life surface unexpectedly. But the charms of his narrative far outweigh its flaws. His casual, jargon-free tone puts the reader at ease and offers more than a glimpse into the perceptions and philosophies of this down-to-earth titan of the contemporary art world.

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