David Hockney can draw anything.
Hockney can draw water. Hockney can draw smog. He can check into a hotel room in Marrakech or Munich, pull his sketchbook from his suitcase and depict the place so rightly that you can almost smell the rug. He can draw the bleaching sunlight that shines upon his house on Montcalm Avenue in Los Angeles. He can draw the chilling damp of Bradford in West Yorkshire, the town where he was born in 1937. He can draw the glow of friendship. Hockney's famous portraits -- of Celia, of his mum, of his buddy, Henry Geldzahler -- are endlessly affectionate. Not since Picasso has a vanguard European drawn from life as well as he.
Or shown a talent so wide ranging. Hockney is a painter, a portraitist, a draftsman, a set designer, too, a writer, a photographer, a pedagogue, a scholar. He is wholly unaffected. Hockney would intimidate were he not so kind.
At 4 p.m. today, while the San Franciscos and Miamis are preparing for their war, Hockney will be interviewed by Geldzahler in the East Building auditorium at the National Gallery of Art. The program is open to the public.
A room of Hockney's prints, most of them meticulous portraits of his friends, is now on view at the gallery in the Gemini show next door. Hockney has been on a roll.
At his last New York show, Andre' Emmerich, his dealer, was selling Hockney's rather roughly drawn recent works on paper for truly scary prices: the most ambitious cost $240,000 each. Last month, in Texas, "Hockney Paints the Stage," a traveling exhibit of sets and costumes he's designed (for Glyndebourne and the Metropolitan) for operas by Stravinsky, Satie, Poulenc and Ravel, opened in Fort Worth. On Nov. 28, a single Hockney drawing, a fairy tale image of a castle on a hill, took up a full page in The Wall Street Journal: Volvo bought the space in an effort to sell cars.
Meanwhile, the bookstores are selling Hockney's latest picture book. "Cameraworks" is its title. The text, by Lawrence Weschler, appeared, in slightly different form, last July in the New Yorker. Alfred A. Knopf is the publisher; the book costs $50.
The shows will close, the ad is gone, the sets will go to storage. But "Cameraworks" is here for good. It is busily, effectively, doing its strange work.
Already one sees artists carrying it about and showing it to friends.
It is unlike other photo books. Flip through it even once and it will change the way you think about portraiture, photography and the way that static pictures depict the flow of time.
David Hockney's photographs hit the art world with such force because no one saw them coming.
Warhol needs his camera. So do the photo-realists. But David Hockney draws. There is no living art star less in need of a machine.
There are artists who would kill to draw so cleanly.
They must have been astounded when they learned that Hockney had turned against his hand.
Anyone can pick up a Polaroid camera, aim it and go click. In January 1982, Hockney began to do just that.
He stopped drawing with his hand.
And started drawing with his mind.
It is rare to meet a painter as intelligent as Hockney. His speech is never blurred. Hockney, when he talks, seems part boy, part sage. His learning is enormous. So is his curiosity. He is sitting on his unmade bed in his small New York hotel room talking of the books -- on quantum physics, entropy and old Chinese science -- strewn upon the sheets.
He wears trousers of bright colors. His pointed shoes are black and white.
When he talks he seems to teach. He says: "You have not been in this room before. You came in through that door. You are sitting in that chair. Now, think of how you're seeing. Look around the room. See? You take it in in pieces, in nervous little glimpses. You meet my eyes, then glance away. You see the bed, the window, the view outside the window. When you're looking at the lamp, the lamp is bigger than anything. You've been sitting in your chair, but in a sense you have been moving. You have been putting things together with memory, in time.
"Photographs aren't like that. That's what's wrong with them. That's what's wrong with all of them. It took time to see this room. It takes time to look at anything if you want to really see it. But there is no time in photographs. That's why you can't look at them for very long. That's why they bore one quickly. They sort of stare you down.
"Now think about your own room, the room where you live. It is a room you know from many, many viewpoints. How does it look? It looks all kinds of ways. You know what's in the closet. And underneath the bed.
"Photographs aren't like that. You say you take a photograph. But the photograph takes you. You're nothing. You've no body. In the end, the ultimate thing about the photograph with one-point perspective is that you're just a dot.
"Now watch this," he says. Deftly, rather suddenly, he places something on the bed -- and begins unrolling an old Chinese landscape scroll.
"Watch. I think it's beautiful. You're on a hillside looking down, down upon a lake. Now, watch, we've crossed the lake. Now we're in the mist. The lake became the sky then. Suddenly the landscape is about memory as well."
"The world looks that way," says Hockney. "It really does, you know. In most familiar photographs, everything looks static. And everyone looks stuffed. We've come to think that the world looks like a photograph. That's how mad it's got."
Hockney glances once again at his landscape scroll and pauses at a mountainside, in mist, with craggy trees.
"Isn't it beautiful," says Hockney.
Plate 48 in "Cameraworks" is a rather formal portrait of Henry Moore, the sculptor. It was taken in July 1982. The sculptor is not still. His expressive hands are moving. He is seated in a chair of teak, carefully observing his portait being made.
Moore has only two eyes, but there are three in Hockney's portrait. And three knees and seven hands.
The picture, a collage, has the presence of one picture -- but is really 24, 24 square Polaroids, glued down edge to edge.
The top row shows the studio ceiling. Two rows of the picture show the sculptor's hands and elbows. At the center of the portrait a four-picture constellation portrays his craggy face. Those four Polaroids, of course, were not all made at once.
In most familiar photographs, each square inch shows a sameness. In most familiar photographs, everything looks static. And time appears to stop.
But that is not the case with Hockney's Henry Moore. Its components may be photographs, but the portrait is not still. Look at it again. It shows the sculptor's drawing lamp, his desk, the wrinkles of his flesh, the buttons of his shirt, the way the cushions are tied down to the arms of his teak chair. It is not a picture of an instant. It portrays sequential time.
In May 1982, tiring of his gridded Polaroids and their slow developments, Hockney started making photo collages with his Pentax. He'd shoot a frame, advance the film, move the camera a bit and then shoot another.
"When the roll was finished, I'd send it to the Fotomat," he says.
Hockney's Polaroid collages gradually became visible just after he shot them. But his Pentax collages depended upon memory. From frame to frame, he had to keep in mind what he'd already shot.
When at last the photographs came back from the developer, Hockney would arrange them into compositions by shuffling them around.
"They showed me another problem with photographs," said Hockney. "Photographs always make you feel you are looking through a window. There is always a void between where your feet are and the bottom of the picture. If there was really a dark void between your feet and the world you wouldn't be able to walk."
Plate 50 in "Cameraworks" shows a nine-photo collage made in Yosemite in spring. Starting at the bottom, one sees Hockney's tennis shoes, the bank on which he's standing, then streamside rocks, a figure crawling on the rock, then the rushing torrent, the other bank, the waterfall beyond, and upwards to the sky.
"I found a wonderful quote," said Hockney. "From Picasso. He knew that art is tied to science, that it is connected to more than direct pleasure. He said, 'I never made a painting as a work of art. They are all research.'
"I think that is thrilling. That's the difference between Picasso's Cubism and that of Marcel Duchamp. Duchamp's 'Nude Descending the Stairs' is about her moving, not you. Picasso had a higher aim."
Hockney, like Picasso, is a protean inventor, occasionally a Cubist, a designer for the theater, a prodigy, a draftsman, an intimate autobiographer, a man of many styles.
But in all Picasso's art, hidden in his mastery, is some inkling of the monstrous. The Spaniard's portaits of his lovers look much more lovely now than they did when new -- they crackle with strange fury. Hockney's pictures of his friends are occasionally erotic. But they are never coy or boastful, prurient or embarrassed.
After two years of feverish photographing, Hockney has moved on. He has returned to brush and paint.
Hockney's photographic experiments -- with density and sequence and memory and time -- have informed his new paintings. One of the most ambitious is "A Visit With Christopher and Don, Santa Monica Canyon," a 20-foot-wide canvas from 1984.
At the right side of the picture, Christopher Isherwood, the writer, is typing at his desk. Artist Don Bachardy, Isherwood's housemate, is busy at his easel at the picture's left.
"The picture tells a story," says Hockney, "a story with a sequence. Here, at the top, you come down the yellow road. They live above the beach at the road's end, just across the canyon from that yellow, red-roofed house. Here they've parked their cars. Then you come down the steps into their living room, and through the picture window you see the yellow house again. Now here you're walking past the dining room table, and past the bedroom, and then, at last, there is Christopher in his studio. By the time you reach his desk you've glanced through half a dozen windows. You've seen the house across the canyon, that red-roofed, yellow house, half a dozen times.
"The painting relies on a kind of Cubism, that's true," said Hockney.
"Cubism didn't fail. The photograph got in the way. Modernism hasn't failed, either. It hasn't actually been tried."