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Mulholland Drive David Hockney Essays

“There’s too much green here,” my friend said as we entered a gallery at the de Young Museum last month. I had flown up to San Francisco to see an exhibition of David Hockney’s work from the last decade—oil, acrylic, and watercolor paintings, iPad and computer “drawings,” and video pieces.

That gallery in the de Young’s “David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition” was filled with English landscape paintings. Almost every canvas included a passage of bright green. My friend, who is a painter herself, noted that it’s a tough color to use. It can dominate a painting—and it dominated that gallery.

As an art historian, I’ve been looking at Hockney’s work for nearly 30 years. Standing in that gallery, I wondered: Why is vibrant color, like green, characteristic of Hockney’s landscapes of Northern England?

Hockney goes green at the de Young Museum in “Woldgate Woods, 26, 27 & 30 July 2006.”

I think it has to do with the nearly 30 years that he lived in L.A.

Yorkshire, where Hockney was born and raised, can be predominantly gray in certain seasons. I think those vibrant greens took root in L.A. and blossomed even more brightly on his return to England. It seems the lack of color there at some times of the year made the presence of color at other times dramatic in ways he hadn’t realized before.

Hockney brought with him to L.A. a solid British art education. He attended the Bradford School of Art in Yorkshire and then the Royal College of Art in London, where he studied with Francis Bacon, among other visiting artists and faculty. He also regularly attended art exhibitions. London in the early 1960s gave him a taste of the international art scene.

Shortly after graduation, he began traveling the world. He visited New York City in 1961, and two years later, London’s Sunday Times commissioned him to make drawings in Egypt. Travel clearly stimulated his picture-making. It also enlarged his worldview and made his reputation as an international artist.

In 1964, he made his first visit to L.A. and was fascinated by the idiosyncrasies of life here. That year, on February 11, he mailed a postcard from Santa Monica to his London dealer John Kasmin, proclaiming the temperature was 76 and that he had found “the world’s most beautiful city” … a “promised land.”

In his 1967 painting “Lawn Being Sprinkled,” Hockney marvels at the sort of everyday scene to which Angelenos are accustomed. In Hockney’s painting, the V-shaped mists of water create a pattern over the very green grass while a clear blue sky caps the view. The composition is a generalization—an abstraction almost—of the way we live here. The strangeness of this dry, desert paradise with its bright lawns and cultivated gardens and open lifestyle became a primary source of inspiration for his art-making.

An L.A. Hockney in L.A.: “Pearblossom Hwy., 11 – 18th April 1986, #2.”

Hockney made Los Angeles his permanent home in 1978. He lived here until 2005, when he returned to his native Yorkshire. But as of 2013, he has moved back to L.A. again. It will be interesting to see what lessons he brought back with him.

His return to California is a triumphant one; he has become a kind of modern old master. He’s an old master not only because this year he’ll turn 77, but also in the sense that art historians use that term as a kind of honorific. He’s a master painter who was trained in the solidly academic British tradition and who has learned from looking closely at work by historic artists ranging from Vermeer to Picasso. And finally, he’s an inveterate experimenter who constantly seeks to understand and master technologies both old and new that can be used for the making of art.

After seeing the de Young exhibition, I wanted to compare his work made in L.A. to that done away from here. So I visited Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) where one of his masterpieces is on permanent view.

“Mulholland Drive, The Road to the Studio” (1980–depicted at the top of the piece) is pure L.A., a celebration of light, color, topography, and man’s imprint on the natural environment. This billboard-sized painting of an undulating road follows Hockney’s daily drive from his home in the Hollywood Hills to his studio on Santa Monica Boulevard. Shifting perspectives take the viewer in and out of the curving road and up and down the hillside. The painting depicts what Hockney saw on this familiar drive—tennis courts, a swimming pool, cypress and palm trees, and the grid layout of the Valley. It’s both a map and a huge landscape whose multiple perspectives reveal the crazy-quilt mix that makes this place unique.

“Mulholland Drive” is also a riot of saturated SoCal colors—blue, green, orange, red, purple. It shows his full repertoire of “mark making,” or applications of paint to a canvas: a quick dash, a long sweeping line, a dot, a scrape. Hockney used numerous techniques and created different textures to describe the topography and features.

While at LACMA, I also spent time with Hockney’s installation of “Seven Yorkshire Landscape Videos” (2011). The fixed perspective he uses for the English multi-screen videos offer a stable, “bigger” picture of the flat expanse of his native countryside. There’s no up and down and curving around here. The roads are straight and narrow, and the near and far are seen from one vantage point.

Painting different seasons, he finds different light effects, creates open vistas with breathing space, and fixes a perspective to show an underlying structure. Hockney seems infatuated with spring and summer—when the greens are greener and in abundance. Those are the seasons of growth, new life, and the cycle starting over again.

For Angelenos who don’t have time for a trip to San Francisco to see the exhibition at the de Young Museum before it closes January 20, I recommend a visit to LACMA. It’s worthwhile to compare Hockney’s L.A. painting of Mulholland Drive with the multi-screen video of Northern England. One is a roller-coaster ride, and the other is an intimate view from a single perch. One is derived from the thrill of a new experience, while the other is embedded in memory that’s newly stimulated.

Fourteen years ago today, David Lynch’s haunting masterpiece Mulholland Dr. opened in theaters across the United States. Take a look back at critics’ initial reactions to Lynch’s mystifying “love story in the city of dreams.”

It tells the story of . . . well, there's no way to finish that sentence. . . . This is a movie to surrender yourself to. If you require logic, see something else. Mulholland Dr. works directly on the emotions, like music. Individual scenes play well by themselves, as they do in dreams, but they don't connect in a way that makes sense—again, like dreams. The way you know the movie is over is that it ends. And then you tell a friend, “I saw the weirdest movie last night.” Just like you tell them you had the weirdest dream.
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times


It encourages multiple viewings, partly to solve its riddles but also because it has that seductive, languid tempo that bears revisiting. In that sense it belongs to a newly evolving genre (such as Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood For Love) that operates like a fusion of movie and pop music; one can either keep seeing it in theaters or put on a DVD of it, like a favorite music CD. The languid, seductive rhythms, the unresolved, circular, less-than-overbearing narrative, the sexy actors all contribute to a kind of personal, open-ended fantasy, or pornography, of yearning.
Phillip Lopate, Film Comment


The worst movie I’ve seen this year is Mulholland Dr., a load of moronic and incoherent garbage from David Lynch that started out as a rejected TV pilot and predictably ended up at the New York Film Festival, where pretentious poseurs sit with their eyes glued to any screen as long as the projector is still running. From this bizarro atrocity, they should get astigmatism.
Rex Reed, Observer


Those sulky viewers who deserted the pop surrealist master with the psycho-fugue of Lost Highway, and may have been gratified with the ultra-linearity of The Straight Story, might as well stay on their couches, because Mulholland Dr. is Lynch at his most structurally ambitious and mind-blowing best. In Mulholland Dr., the underlit and overimagined streets of Los Angeles are used as a launching point for the exploration of the dark recesses of the mind; loosely connected ideas ebb and flow and leave psychic scars in their wake. Like the mode of transportation L.A. is most noted for, the film speeds up and down, shifting gears, and runs down a road full of twists and turns, ultimately ending up with . . . Silencio.
Mark Peranson, Indiewire


Looked at lightly, it is the grandest and silliest cinematic carnival to come along in quite some time: a lurching journey through one filmmaker's personal fun house. On a more serious level, its investigation into the power of movies pierces a void from which you can hear the screams of a ravenous demon whose appetites can never be slaked.
Stephen Holden, The New York Times


A film that, crossing Vertigo with Persona (and maybe Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon), is one of the most disturbing portraits of woman as patriarchal pawn and victim in American movie history. Lynch situates his doomed lesbian love story within a classically paranoid, though not necessarily untrue, vision of the industry as a closed hierarchical system in which the ultimate source of power remains hidden behind a series of representatives.
Amy Taubin, Film Comment

Mulholland Dr. turns as perverse and withholding in its narrative as anything in Buñuel. Similarly surreal is the gusto with which Lynch orchestrates his particular fetishes. In Mulholland Dr., the filmmaker has the conviction to push self-indulgence past the point of no return.
J. Hoberman, The Village Voice


If you understand what Mulholland Dr. is about, operators are standing by right now, waiting for a clue.
Desson Howe, The Washington Post


For its first ninety minutes the film motors along this noirish route—Raymond Chandler shops at Frederick’s of Hollywood—then goes defiantly, wondrously weird. This handsome, persuasively inhabited spook show reveals Lynch’s talent for fooling, unsettling and finally enthralling his audience. Viewers will feel as though they’ve just finished a great meal but aren’t sure what they’ve been served. Behind them, the chef smiles wickedly.
Richard Corliss, Time


The question is not “Does Mulholland Dr. make sense?,” or even “Is it meant to make sense?,” but, rather, as Laurence Olivier once demanded of Dustin Hoffman, “Is it safe?” If, as happens in the new movie, you come out of the theater feeling half as secure as you went in, then the mission has been accomplished. All Lynch's work is hit and miss, but whenever he hits (and I'm not sure that he even knows when, let alone why, he has pulled it off), the role of common sense is flooded and short-circuited by the uncommon gratification of the senses. When David Hockney painted a picture entitled Mulholland Drive, he explained that the word “Drive” was “not the name of the road but the act of driving,” and although Lynch's shadow-caked palette could not be more different from Hockney's, his motive is the same. This film is the record of a journey, and it leaves us with the dreadful possibility that all highways are lost.
Anthony Lane, The New Yorker

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