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A Hollywood Collection

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Critical Review

‘A Hollywood Collection’ is the first series of lithographs Hockney produced with printer Ken Tyler at the Gemini G.E.L. workshop in LA 1965. While most artists were moving to New York, Hockney chose the West Coast after being inspired by the shadows in Hollywood films – a move he has compared to ‘Van Gogh going to Arles’. Dating to 1965, ‘A Hollywood Collection’ is the first series of lithographs Hockney produced with printer Ken Tyler at the Gemini G.E.L. workshop in the city.

The series can be seen as a microcosm of Hockney’s entire oeuvre; his love for nature is represented in the trees in Picture Of A Landscape In An Elaborate Gold Frame and Picture Of Melrose Avenue In An Ornate Gold Frame – which also represents his love of modernist architecture and road signs – while his fascination for the still life as subject is encapsulated by Picture Of A Still Life That Has An Elaborate Silver Frame. Finally, one of his most enduring subjects, the portrait, is represented by Picture Of Portrait In Silver Frame and his penchant for bold colours is shown in Picture Of A Pointless Abstraction Framed Under Glass.

All this is wrapped up in his playful attitude to the history of art which sees him adding a trompe l’oeil frame to these subjects in order to add a meta layer of commentary on them. Each work is described as a ‘picture of’ as if Hockney were merely copying a painting or print already in existence – in this case a work that belongs in the fictional collection of a Hollywood star. Here Hockney, like many masters before him, is playing with our perception of art and asks us to consider how it is framed and reframed, produced and reproduced, by calling on the motif that recurs frequently in art history, the picture within the picture. But here Hockney takes the effect one step further, as with his earlier work, Play Within a Play where he paints the image of a tapestry under a pane of glass.

Why is A Hollywood Collection series important?

Rather than depicting a picture hanging within an interior he places the frame at the very edges of his image so what we are faced with is a flattening – almost a photocopy – of an original artwork. An ornate gilt frame is reduced to its essential geometric components while the glass of the ‘pointless abstraction’ almost disappears completely as a result of Hockney’s treatment. And while surface and block colour dominate in the frames and the still life, in works such as Picture Of Melrose Avenue and Picture Of A Landscape we are confronted with a textured sky and a sponge like tree that adds a surprising element of depth to these flattened compositions. The juxtaposition is heightened in Picture Of Portrait where the sitter is rendered in watery tones against a blue background.

As with the rest of Hockney’s oeuvre the artist appears to be asking us to enter this simulacrum, where a tree stands alone in an empty landscape, reduced to its essential Platonic form, and a frame becomes not a border around a image but part of the image itself. The artist creates a doubling effect in a nod to the tricks of the Old Masters, asking the viewer to consider their perspective and his own position as an artist painting ‘from life’.

This series marks Hockney’s first foray into lithography as a medium and at the same time encapsulates his approach to painting, with its inclusion of the still life, landscape and portrait genres that can be seen throughout his oeuvre. The works in ‘A Hollywood Collection’ show the great British painter’s ongoing fascination with the Old Masters that went before him and his preoccupation with the question of perception and illusion in art.

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