Peggy Clifford, Editor Some years ago when the Santa Monica Pier was more freewheeling than it is now, a woman named Beryl presided over a vast room that was filled with white plaster casts of famous sculptures, which she made every night and sold every day. One day, I saw David Hockney coming out of Beryl’s with a white plaster bust of Beethoven under one arm and a similar bust of Elvis Presley under his other arm. He carried them to his car, an elegant red Mercedes convertible, strapped them down in the back seat, and drove away. I once read that he liked to drive aimlessly around Los Angeles, just looking at things. Perhaps it was on one of those drives that he discovered Beryl’s plaster palace. Hockney is not only one of the most acclaimed and renowned artists of the modern era, he is an explorer, restless, uninterested in repeating himself, trying, sometimes inventing, new media and new ways of seeing and showing things that interested him. For a while, he experimented with Xerox art. His “cameraworks” were photo montages carried to the nth power. He has designed sets for operas. And, of course, he has done just about everything that can be done with paint. On Saturday February 26, an exhibition of new watercolor paintings of East Yorkshire, “Hand Eye Heart,” will open at L.A. Louver in Venice. In 2002, following the publication of his book Secret Knowledge, in which he explored the use of optical projections in Western art from Byzantium to Cézanne, Hockney moved away from the camera and back to the hand, choosing to paint in watercolor, a medium that he had rarely worked in. In 2002 and 2003, he traveled in Europe, following the Northern summer light of Norway and Iceland, and the winter light of Spain. He also painted a series of watercolors of his home and studio in Los Angeles, which were included in the 2004 Whitney Biennial. His three-year exploration of watercolor led to a new series of landscape paintings of East Yorkshire. The subject of “Hand Eye Heart” first engaged his imagination as a teenager when, during summer holidays, he worked the fields of East Yorkshire, shucking corn. There, he said, one sees “the sorts of wide vistas you get all the time in the American West.” His 15-year exploration of the American West culminated in large paintings of the Grand Canyon that were included in Hockney’s last show at L.A. Louver in 1998, “Looking at Landscape/Bring in Landscape.” “Hand Eye Heart” is the culmination of Hockney’s extended visits to EastYorkshire during late 2003 and 2004. Going out on long drives with paintbrushes and small pots of paint, Hockney made small watercolors studies, which, back in his studio, he worked up into large paintings, using single or double sheets of thick Arche paper that can support the swaths of watercolor paint and layering of color. In addition to a number of single and double sheet watercolor paintings, the exhibition includes a large work made up of 36 individual watercolors displayed in a grid format, not unlike some of his “cameraworks.” A 140-page, hardbound color catalogue that includes an essay by Lawrence Weschler, and foreword by Peter Goulds, accompanies the exhibit which will be at L.A. Louver through April 2. An opening reception for the artist will be held Friday, February 25, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the gallery at 45 North Venice Boulevard, a block from the beach.Beryl’s palace of plaster closed years ago. And she is dead now. I never knew what, if anything, Hockney did with the busts of Beethoven and Elvis.
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