The ebullient landscape of the Pacific Coast explodes in a riot of chromatic brilliance. Mountain crags rise in peaks of chartreuse and facades of orange; pink hills roll and undulate in lavender shadow; lush vegetation erupts in speckles and hatches of green; and a serpentine gray road leads the viewer gaily through this verdant and bucolic landscape. In the distance, a calm cerulean bay laps at a lime green shore stretching into the background. Colliding perspectives coalesce in an energetic and lively juxtaposition of viewpoints, demarcated by passages of heavily saturated color. Across this vista, Hockney paints, in short, Cézanne-like brushstrokes, in staccato that recalls Signac, in swaths of color, in gradations of hue, and in a bold prism of joyous color. Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica can be read as four distinct planes integrated into a single picture, a site or stage on which Hockney would perform his “Wagner Drive,” choreographing a musical program in his car as he drove his friends through the landscape towards a setting sun. “The winding road along which Hockney drove every day from his house in the Hollywood Hills to his studio on Santa Monica Boulevard came to symbolize for him his new experience of the city, and his now-elevated vantage point from the hilly heights rather than from the flat terrain that he had known during earlier sojourns. The pictorial shorthand that he devised for that heart-stopping experience of driving up and down Nichols Canyon was to prove decisive in shaping his notion of travelling through a landscape, and of reconstructing it through a succession of signposts lodged in the mind, that again became a vital constituent of his landscapes when he first painted Yorkshire in 1997.” (Marco Livingstone, “The Road Less Traveled,” in Exh. Cat., London, Royal Academy of Arts (and travelling), David Hockney: A Bigger Picture, 2012, p. 34) In the foreground, two light gray highways bisect mountains, whose slight gradations create a sense of depth. The middle ground is occupied by passages of pink, purple, and blue building into a central mass of hills, beyond which stylized purple hills punctuate the background of the Pacific Coast. Two triangles of indigo and black flank the scene, curtain-like in the way they demarcate Hockney’s stage. The horizontal bar of the highway contributes further to the sense of flattened perspective, from which the viewer is tipped forward into this vertiginous and plunging vista. Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica is illustrated on the back cover of the second volume of Hockney’s impassioned autobiography, That’s the Way I See It, testifying to its personal significance to the artist. Within this volume, Hockney writes: “From 1988, at the same time as I was doing the faxes, I was also experimenting with different styles of landscape paintings. Anyone who had been on my Wagner drive would immediately recognize Pacific Coast Highway [and Santa Monica] – a multiple view of Santa Monica Bay and the mountains. Scenes from that same drive are also shown in Mountain from Stunt Road, The Valley and The Cutting.” (David Hockney, That’s The Way I See It, London, 1993, p. 192) Mountain from Stunt Road today belongs to the Kansas City Art Institute and The Valley and The Cutting reside in significant private collections, further underscoring the rarity of this masterpiece.
Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica beautifully showcases the luminosity and color of the California landscape and typifies Hockney’s ambition to infuse his pictures with the state’s Bacchanalian arcadia of social liberation, sexual freedom, and world of rich commodities. Having graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1962, Hockney travelled to New York in late 1963, after which he arrived in Los Angeles. He had long dreamt of this promised land of bright sunlight and bold colors during his schoolyears in Bradford and London. A frequent traveler in his youth throughout Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa, Hockney was consistently inspired by his surroundings, but never more so than when he settled in Los Angeles in 1964, after which he continued to fix on the canvas the incandescent light and color of his adopted home with an almost religious reverence. The present work showcases an intimate journey Hockney took each day in his beloved California, while typifying the artist's obsession with landscapes around the world: “In its sweeping vista and colossal scale, Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica can be seen as the culmination of pictures such as Under and Out of the Arch, in which he had conveyed space in a more abstracted idiom. Though painted on a single enormous stretch of canvas rather than in fragments as has come to be his method, this magnificent ode to southern California opened the way to the landscapes of the late 1990s (conspicuously the Grand Canyon paintings) and to the Yorkshire pictures of the last half decade.” (Marco Livingstone, “The Road Less Traveled,” in Exh. Cat., London, Royal Academy of Arts (and travelling), David Hockney: A Bigger Picture, 2012, p. 32)
Hockney executed Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica at a moment when his peers proclaimed the death of painting and instead turned to photography and conceptual art as more contemporary means of representation. Although Hockney has always existed outside the traditional art historical narrative, he addresses significant styles and techniques that have defined the canon. From the Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, and Fauvists he so admired, Hockney sought to capture the variety of light, changing weather conditions, and space that the infinite renewal the natural world presents. Unlike his predecessors, however, Hockney did not paint en plein aire, but rather from memory in his studio, located approximately a ten minute drive away. The proximity of his studio allowed the artist to return to this spot, like Monet did in painting his various Cathedrals, in order to visually refresh himself, yet ultimately Hockney relied on the memory of his experience as the most important source for his painting. As described by the artist, “We see with memory. We see psychologically.” (Ibid., 43) Like van Gogh, Hockney employed a number of inventive marks to convey the physicality and various textures in the landscape; from the Fauves, he mimicked the sumptuous and vivid use of color. The present work was also informed by Hockney’s reengagement with both Picasso and Chinese scrolls, evident in the abstracted idiom with which he addresses landscape and the tilted perspective and deep space he borrowed from Song Dynasty scrolls. In the present work, space flows in a series of perspectives that fold into each other in one compressed plane. Hockney intended his canvas to be read ‘in time,’ the way a viewer unrolls a Chinese scroll, physically moving through its narrative, a feat he has achieved by destabilizing conventional perspective and instead painting a scene that offers numerous points of view from differing vantage points.
A highly personal and whimsical landscape brimming with joie de vivre, Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica blurs the line between reality and fantasy, presenting a fantastical stage of Hockney’s vivid remembered experience. The present work is both a culmination of various influences and ambitions within Hockney’s oeuvre up to the 1990s, while also anticipating Hockney’s more recent work. “With their high horizon lines (or even lack of horizon), what the Malibu paintings of this period addressed was an immersive looking into deep space, a slowness, a drawing out of time that over twenty years later would form the basis for his video works of the four seasons enacted at Woldgate Woods in 2010 and 2011.” (Andrew Wilson, “Experiences of Space,” Exh. Cat., London, Tate Britain (and travelling), David Hockney, 2017, p. 146) Throughout his career, Hockney has possessed a voracious appetite for art history, digesting and translating significant movements into his own unique idiom; this constant mining of tropes and techniques within the canon coalesce across the grand stage of Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica. Here, Hockney fuses the language of Cubism with a Fauvist sensibility, executed in the endlessly varying marks of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, all compounded into one magnificent tour de force of painterly vigor and exultation. Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica showcases the sweeping vista of Hockney’s home, provides a brilliant survey of important art historical touchstones, and reveals the artist as a master colorist and one of today’s most accomplished and engaging painters.