I share a birthday with artist David Hockney — today he is 78 years old (I’m 15 years behind him).
While I’ve been a longtime fan, I was also privileged to interview him three times for NPR. When LACMA hosted the Hockney retrospective exhibition in 1988, I was thrilled to sit in his studio, then just off Mulholland Drive, where he drew a picture on the catalog’s title page of a canvas enclosing the exhibition title and a note “To Sarah with Love, David Hockney,” sitting on an easel. In one corner, he drew his beloved dachshund Stanley who, for want of a more polite phrase, is taking a leak on one of the easel’s legs.
To me, this epitomizes Hockney’s sly humor, although it could be a snarky commentary on his attitude toward the art world. No matter: it hangs over my bed, custom-framed in the vivid colors of the catalog’s cover, and I treasure it.
Hockney’s always been an experimenter and a challenger of art world conventions. Although you may think of him as the man who made swimming pool paintings, he also made a controversial case for Vermeer having used mirrors to create his rare masterpieces (an idea since demonstrated in a documentary, “Tim’s Vermeer,” which features Hockney).
He was one of the first to incorporate technology, using a photocopier to create homemade prints in the ’80s, fax machines and laser printers in the ’90s, and in 2009, iPhone and iPad apps to create paintings. He took Polaroid photos from multiple perspectives, connecting them as landscape mosaics that reveal both time and space. He also narrated a documentary about a 72-foot-long 17th century Chinese imperial scroll, which helped influence his approach to perspective.
Hockney made Los Angeles his home for decades, then returned to England where he painted landscapes of his native East Yorkshire countryside. Having been there, I understand the draw of the area’s unique light and beauty, which he captures so brilliantly in these enormous works.
Now he’s back in L.A., where he’s been busily creating works exploring the relationship between photography and painting. “David Hockney: Painting and Photography” opens July 15 at LA Louver in Venice, marking his 16th solo show at the gallery. There’s a reception for him that evening, and he’s doing an artist lecture at The Getty Center on Sept.10 at 7 p.m.
LA Louver is located at 45 North Venice Blvd. in Venice; visit www.lalouver.com for more info. For Getty reservations, go towww.getty.edu. Don’t miss this opportunity to mingle with one of the towering artists of our — and all — time.
WATTS TOWERS TOUR
Speaking of towering, if you’re like me, a visit to the legendary Watts Towers is on your bucket list. Here’s your chance to see it in the setting of an intimate tour (only 20 participants, and only a few spaces remain) thanks to the Fowler Museum at UCLA.
Currently on view at The Fowler, “Singular Spaces: From the Eccentric to the Extraordinary in Spanish Art Environments” is a photo exhibition documenting monumental works by eight self-taught artists across Spain. These idiosyncratic sculptures, gardens, buildings and sites were developed without architectural or engineering plans, fired only by the artists’ imagination, utilizing materials that were near to hand. These fanciful, colorful works feel improvisational in nature.
Inspired by this exhibition (on view through Sept.6), Fowler on the Town has created “Singular Spaces in L.A.”, two intimate half-day tours of eccentric and extraordinary art monuments by self-taught artists right here in our own backyard.
A tour of Watts Towers takes place Sunday, July 12. Simon Rodia built the world’s largest single construction created by one individual. He was an Italian immigrant construction worker and mason and an obsessive outsider artist who built these towers and walls by hand for 33 years between 1921 and 1954.
Designated a National, California and Los Angeles Historic Landmark, the structures have no inner armature; Rodia wired pieces of rebar together and wrapped them in wire mesh, hand-packing them with mortar, then covering them in a decorative surface of mosaic tiles, glass, clay, shells and rock. There are 17 interconnected structures, the tallest of which is 99 feet high.
Then, on Aug.8, there’s a two-fer. Go see “Phantasma Gloria,” a unique glittering sculpture created in front of the Echo Park home of artist Randlett Lawrence. This icon is comprised of colorful glass bottles, wire and colored water, and is best viewed in morning light.
The bottles reflect sunshine and create a glow of color, light and a refracted view of the world. Within the bottles, the artist has created patterns echoing stylized dolphins, and even a Virgin de Guadalupe, honoring the multicultural community of Echo Park. Now 50 feet long and 24 feet high, Lawrence has been working on it for more than a decade and plans to continue until it wraps around the entire house.
Also on this tour is the brand-new “Echo Park Healthy Foods Mosaic,” a public-private art collaboration that honors the Echo Park Farmers Market and local resident Isa Kae Meksin, the force behind its creation.
With this mosaic, local artist Katrina Alexy, L.A. City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell and the Echo Park Community hope to raise awareness of the market and of the importance of healthy, locally grown food.
Just a few months old, the 40-foot-long mosaic appears along the wall between two city-owned parking lots and repurposes ceramic tiles once destined for the landfill.
For details — and you should sign up soon before all spaces are gone — visit http://www.fowler.ucla.edu or call (310) 267-4007. Tours this good usually cost lots more; these are reasonably priced at $35 for members and $40 for non-members.
Sarah A. Spitz spent her career as a producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica and produced freelance arts reports for NPR. She has also written features and reviews for various publications.