David Hockney (b. 1937)
Property from a Private Bel Air Collection
David Hockney (b. 1937)

Santa Monica Boulevard

David Hockney (b. 1937)
Santa Monica Boulevard
signed, titled and dated 'David Hockney Santa Monica Blvd 1979' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
24 x 36 in. (61 x 91.4 cm.)
Painted in 1979.
André Emmerich Gallery, New York
Susan Gersh Gallery, Los Angeles
Private collection, Beverly Hills
Acquired from the above by the present owner
D. Hockney, That's the Way I See It, London, 1993, p. 50, no. 47 (illustrated in color).

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Joanna Szymkowiak
Joanna Szymkowiak

Lot Essay

Painted during what has been called ‘a watershed period’ for David Hockney’s work, Santa Monica Boulevard is a vibrant painting which reflects the love the artist had for his new adoptive home of Los Angeles. Painted in 1979, immediately after the completion of his critically acclaimed Paper Pools series, this colorful painting captures the vitality of the West Coast during its heyday in the age of disco. Having moved into a new studio on Santa Monica Blvd itself, Hockney decided to capture the hustle and bustle of what was happening right outside his door. “I love it all, and feel at home here,” Hockney said, “and what’s more important to me I feel my activity painting in the studio has a lot to do with what’s going on right outside the door” (D. Hockney, quoted by C. S. Sykes, David Hockney The Biography, 1975-2012, New York, 2014, p. 81).

Hockney’s immortalization of Santa Monica Boulevard depicts that most indicative of L.A. of scenes—a car dealership. Flanked by red, white and blue streamers, in front of ‘Mr Compact’s’ low-slung whitewashed Spanish Revival saleroom, a row of technicolor cars await buyers, their bright paintwork gleaming in the Californian sunshine. On the sidewalk are two figures, one dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt walking towards another, propped up by a palm tree, who is sporting a tight t-shirt, short shorts and what appears to be construction boots. In a city where commerce is king, everything—it appears—is for sale.

Having spent time working on his Paper Pools in upstate New York, Hockney was keen to return to California. While he had been away, a friend had worked to secure a new apartment and studio for the artist in anticipation of his return to L.A., eventually selecting a space in the former home of the Versailles Furniture Company on Santa Monica Blvd. Hockney had picked the perfect time to return to the city, which was undergoing something of a renaissance; the nightclub scene was buzzing, the famous Hollywood Sign had been newly restored, Saturday Night Fever had come out the year before, and disco was at its height. Roller skating was all the rage, with Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace at the corner of La Cienega and Santa Monica Blvd, being one of the hottest party spots in town. Hockney was loving every minute of it and writing to his friend R. B. Kitaj back in England, he said “Hollywood Blvd is better than ever. Roller-skaters everywhere gliding silently along the pavements…they have wonderful sexy outfits, pretty boys and girls…I stood outside Musso and Franks the other day Friday watching all, and suddenly thought—if Breughel came to L.A.—this is what he would paint” (Ibid.).

His move to Santa Monica Boulevard prompted Hockney to embark on one of his most ambitious series of paintings. “I’m starting some big paintings of L.A. streets,” he stated, “Santa Monica Blvd is full of fresh-faced hustlers from Iowa and slightly tired Hollywood types driving round in circles—that’s subject No. 1” (Ibid.). His plan was to produce a large-scale portrait of the streetscape measuring over 20-feet in length depicting the excitement of the busy L.A. thoroughfare. In addition to the car dealership, it was also going to include a shop with bright green shutters, a section of an apartment building, a woman pushing a shopping trolley, and two hustlers—one hitching a lift, the other standing in a doorway. “Santa Monica Boulevard is all facades, painted bricks, painted crazy paving. Nothing is what it seems to be. But what I love are the hustlers, they look like ordinary hitchhikers, but they are hustlers. And then there are these wonderful old ladies with their shopping bags, not noticing anything, smiling at the boys like their sons” (Ibid., p. 85).

Using a series of his own photographs as his guide, Hockney began to lay out the elements of this gigantic canvas. However, the project soon ran into problems, both artistic and personal. He had to interrupt his painting to schedule for his annual trip back to the U.K. for the Christmas holiday, and then another subsequent trip back home due the death of his father. He also found that working on such a grand scale was not producing the sense of movement and flow that he was hoping to achieve, and that the painting was too static. Eventually, he abandoned the large-scale project in favor of smaller, more intimate canvases, of which Santa Monica Boulevard is a pre-eminent example.

The artist made his first trip to California as early as 1964, a journey that was the culmination of a long-held dream. Growing up in northern England he had been captivated by what had seemed like the exotic world of sun, sea and sand of the West Coast. Living in the damp, cold and gray environs of Bradford, the attractions of the America were obvious. Apart from the vastly different climate, childhood memories of war and the austerity that many Britons faced during the long economic recovery afterwards, would have seemed at odds with his teenage counterparts in the U.S.A. Along with many others of his generation, one of the only means of escaping the drudgery of everyday life was going to the movies, and Hockney was an avid moviegoer, attending the movie theater regularly. So, the allure of the Hollywood and America he read about in books and magazines, and saw portrayed by the silver screen, was undoubtedly strong.

Thus, Santa Monica Boulevard becomes a celebration of Hockney’s love for the energy and vitality of his newly-adopted home in California. Its vibrant palette also marks the beginning of a new period of painting in which rich, high-keyed color began to play a much more important role in his work. Throughout his peripatetic career, David Hockney has never shied away from exploring the full gamut of the artistic process, constantly inspired by his surroundings to produce a rich array of works. But it is with the vibrant landscape of Southern California that he is most closely associated, a subject matter that has provided him with a rich stream of inspiration, making him one of the most enduring painters of his generation.

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