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Artist and ‘English-Los Angeleno’ David Hockney brings latest work home to LA

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Few have left their mark on the Los Angeles like David Hockney. Known for his passion for experimentation in all its forms and use of vibrant, colorful California landscapes, Hockney brought visibility to gay life the early in 1960's by painting members of the community living openly in LA. As a prolific painter and multimedia artist, the 80-year-old Hockney has yet to slow down.

82 Portraits and 1 Still-life 

His latest body of work, 82 Portraits and 1 Still-life, is on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art right now. Presented together as one work of art, the 83 paintings were created in his Hollywood hills studio. Over the course of three years, Hockney seated model after model, in the same spot -- all in a striking yellow chair with a blue-green background.

Los Angeles County Museum Art -

The exhibit has been touring museums in Europe and has come home to be seen in Los Angeles for the first time. 

"I never set out to paint 82 portraits. They just grew and that's the number I finished, eventually," Hockney said. "It was a mad thing to do really, paint 82 portraits, but I enjoyed doing them very much. And I think you can tell that here."

All of the 82 subjects were part of Hockney's circle. Family, friends, employees, and even notable personalities like Frank Gehry and Barry Humphries make up the sprawling body of work. 

In early March 2014, a friend of Hockney's had to cancel because her father was ill. Hockney's paints were already set up though, so he painted this still life instead.
In early March 2014, a friend of Hockney's had to cancel because her father was ill. Hockney's paints were already set up though, so he painted this still life instead.
Richard Schmidt/LACMA

"I think if you know them very well, you really know what they look like," Hockney said. "Whereas, if I was drawing you now, never really having met you before, it would take me awhile to find your face, really. The more you know about people, the more I can put in the painting."

Each portrait took two to four days to paint and Hockney painted his subjects virtually back to back, over the course of three years. And Hockney was not willing to take much of a break. When a subject was unable to sit for a scheduled portrait, Hockney opted to place an arrangement of fruit, thus providing the singular still-life in the bunch. 

Stephanie Barron was painted by Hockney as part of the series in January of 2014. She's also curated the LACMA exhibit and displayed the portraits in chronological order. 

Exhibit curator Stephanie Barron says
Exhibit curator Stephanie Barron says "the rest of the world just fades away" when you sit for Hockney.
Richard Schmidt/LACMA

"Ultimately, this work is enormously accessible," Barron said. "There’s a joyousness. There’s astonishing color. There’s an openness. It’s just work that, frankly, makes you smile. And I think so often, people come to works and they feel like I’m not smart enough to know that, or I need to read a text to understand that. And that’s not the case here. These are works that I think speak to everybody."

Los Angeles left its mark on Hockney

Hockney arrived in Los Angeles 55 years ago and fell in love with the region pretty quickly. His depictions of Los Angele life and landscapes are staples of Hockney's decades-long portfolio.

"I think of myself as an English Los Angeleno," said Hockney. "That’s what I am."

Hockney may have helped shape the L.A. art scene, but creating work in L.A. has shaped Hockney as an artist. "When I went back to England to paint some landscapes, I was going back with 30 years of painting in California," Hockney said. "So, I painted it differently."

"I think it’s very lively here. I love it. I love L.A. I do. It’s a marvelous city. There’s lots of artists here now. There’s lots and lots of interesting people live in LA. All kinds of people. All types."

If you'd like to check out portraits of some of those interesting people living in L.A., 82 Portraits and 1 Still-life will be at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art until July 29, 2018.