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Santa Monica Boulevard

Santa Monica Boulevard
signed, titled and dated 'David Hockney Santa Monica Blvd 1979' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
24 x 36in. (61 x 91.5cm.)
Painted in 1979
André Emmerich Gallery, New York.
Susan Gersh Gallery, Los Angeles.
Private Collection, Beverly Hills.
Private Collection, Los Angeles.
Anon. sale, Christie’s New York, 15 May 2019, lot 56B.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
D. Hockney, That's the Way I See It, London 1993, p. 242, no. 47 (illustrated in colour, p. 50).
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent. This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Michelle McMullan
Michelle McMullan Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Aglow with light, colour and joie de vivre, Santa Monica Boulevard captures David Hockney’s ecstatic return to his beloved Los Angeles. Executed in 1979, it is a thrilling ode to the city that had first inspired him over a decade earlier, and which—upon his return—would bring about an impassioned re-engagement with painting. After several years spent between Europe, London and New York, the artist travelled back to the West Coast to find its streets intoxicated by the rhythms of disco. Taking a studio on Santa Monica Boulevard, he set about capturing the vibrant flux of daily life outside his window. Here, four gleaming automobiles shine brightly outside ‘Mr Compact’s’ whitewashed Spanish Revival saleroom. Red, white and blue streamers cut across the dazzling azure sky; below, two casually-dressed figures parade the sidewalk, one leaning against the fronds of a palm tree. Painted in conjunction with the vast six-metre-long work of the same title, held in the David Hockney Foundation, the entire spectacle is drenched in sparkling Californian sunshine. It is the same light that had captured Hockney’s imagination as a young man, and which would go on to infuse some of his greatest works.

Much like Jean Dubuffet’s Paris Circus, Hockney’s paintings of Los Angeles street life are electrifying records of his response to the contemporary urban zeitgeist. Arriving back in the city in the summer of 1978, the artist took a studio in a building formerly occupied by the Versailles Furniture Company on Santa Monica Boulevard. Presided over by the freshly-restored ‘Hollywood’ sign that graced the top of Mount Lee, Los Angeles was firmly under the spell of the newly-released sensation Saturday Night Fever. Disco and roller skating were all the rage, with Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace at the corner of La Cienega and Santa Monica Boulevard being one of the hottest party spots in town. ‘Santa Monica Boulevard is all facades, painted bricks, painted crazy paving’, enthused Hockney. ‘Nothing is what it seems to be.’ He described the ‘fresh-faced hustlers’ and ‘Hollywood types driving round in circles’, the ‘wonderful old ladies with their shopping bags’ and the roller-skaters ‘gliding silently along the pavements’ in ‘wonderful sexy outfits’. ‘I stood outside Musso and Franks the other day Friday watching all,’ he wrote, ‘and suddenly thought—if Brueghel came to L.A.—this is what he would paint’ (D. Hockney, quoted in C. S. Sykes, David Hockney The Biography, 1975-2012, New York 2014, pp. 81-85).

Hockney had first visited Los Angeles in 1964. The trip was the realisation of a long-held dream, its glittering, star-studded hills a million miles from the cold, grey privations of post-war Bradford in the North of England. Entranced by its clarity of light and sweeping cinematic vistas, the artist made some of his greatest early paintings in the city, depicting swimming pools, lawns, terraces and his lover Peter Schlesinger. Hockney and Schlesinger had moved back to London together in 1968, but their relationship strained, eventually coming to an end three years later. As he began to come to terms with his heartbreak, the artist had immersed himself in a variety of other media: notably theatre set design—resulting in collaborations with Glyndebourne Festival Opera—as well as his series of Paper Pools, produced in New York during the summer of 1978. Upon his return to Los Angeles, however, Hockney had been inspired to pick up his paintbrush once more, enraptured not only by the city’s renaissance but equally by the discovery of new, densely-pigmented acrylics that he found in local paint shops. The city came to life in luminous colour at his fingertips; Hockney had finally returned home.

The present work takes its place within this context. Based on photographs taken with his miniature Pentax Auto 110 camera, it is one of a handful of paintings that Hockney made while wrestling with his large-scale vision of Santa Monica Boulevard. The resulting panorama, along with the present work and its companions, marked a turning point in Hockney’s oeuvre, laying the groundwork for his vast, dramatic Californian landscapes such as Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio (1980, Los Angeles County Museum of Art) and Nichols Canyon (1980). The lessons of the theatre are certainly evident in the present work’s mise-en-scène, its lighting and composition staged like a film set. Its shifting interplay of horizontal bands, meanwhile, creates an almost cinematic sense of depth and motion, as if seen from a speeding car. This oneiric suspension of time and place, each element frozen as if in a dream, would have a profound impact on future generations of artists, including Peter Doig, Jonas Wood and others. For Hockney, it marked the onset of a journey that would lead him to profound new revelations about the way we process reality, beginning—in Santa Monica Boulevard—with the world right outside his front door.

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