London: Tate, 279 pp., $60.00; $40.00 (paper) (distributed in the US by Abrams)
The tousled strands of a deep pile rug give a painter a pleasant rhythm to mimic. Curling every which way in little wavelets from the confines of the carpet backing, they offer an orderly disorder for the brush to reinvent. There are three particularly inviting rugs among the 135 works—from paintings and drawings to photographic composites and multiscreen installations—assembled in the retrospective of David Hockney’s work now at the Metropolitan Museum. One of them snuggles around the bare feet of a fashion designer friend of Hockney’s in Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, a ten-foot-wide canvas from 1970–1971 that has lodged in the British imagination as an icon of a modern London at ease with itself, its heritage suavely renovated. A swish young couple pose, cocksure yet winsome, in a Victorian piano nobile that they have decluttered: little interrupts its pastel expanses but a white telephone, a vase of white lilies on a white modern table, Percy the white cat, and the off-whites of the shag pile into which those toes are sinking in woolen warmth—a single sensuous incident singing out from the cool, impeccable acrylic rendering.
Figure and floor don’t meet in The Room, Tarzana, which was painted as Hockney turned thirty in 1967 and which is surely the most erotically charged image in the show. Instead, Hockney’s young lover turns to stare at him from a bed within a similarly spotless interior, here dimmed to the blues of the night: he is lying prone on the sheets in his white T-shirt and his white sport socks, his left hand tensely opening and his bare buttocks gleaming in the moonlight. More tactile, though, than the painted boy and the stiff bed on which he lies is the fluffy mat beside it, where the brushwork frisks and teases.
This tryst in a nice neighborhood continues a romantic allegiance to Los Angeles set in motion in 1964. That year the young Yorkshireman, having sold out his first London show, traveled to the city of his hedonistic dreams and returned to recall his encounters with it in the studio. In California Art Collector (1964), it is the unfamiliar luxury of long-fiber carpets, as much as that of private swimming pools, that seems to have snagged his attention. Patches of wavy, watery brush rhythms ruffle the creamy primer at the base of the six-foot canvas, abutting other, denser paint patches—notably the chunky white and buff of an armchair fabric with floral patterning and the flamboyance of a carnation-pink wall. Between armchair and wall, we see the green of the collector’s dress surmounted by her head in profile, which turns to commune with a modernist sculpture while behind it another head, that of another sculpture, turns to face the opposite way.
Patches abutting, or patches laid…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only – subscribe at this low introductory rate for immediate access!
Unlock this article, and thousands more from our complete 55+ year archive, by subscribing at the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue — that’s 10 digital issues plus six months of full archive access plus the NYR App for just $10.