I Read Somewhere

Pearblossom Hwy by David Hockney

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Pearblossom Hwy., 11 - 18th April 1986, #2 *
David Hockney
71 1/2 × 107 in

David Hockney’s Pearblossom Highway was originally commissioned as an illustration for an article in Vanity Fair. It depicts a crossroads in a desert in Southern California, USA, and gives you a sense of the landscape in western America. What differentiates it from a traditional landscape is that it is a photo collage made up of 800 photographs, shot over a period of 10 days. The monumental picture is a part of Hockney’s experiments with photography and collages, which he calls ‘Joiners’.

Unsatisfied with the single frozen moment of time that a photograph can depict, Hockney began to make these collages of photographs that combined multiple perspectives, details and positions over the course of many days or hours. When put altogether, these collages arrest the viewer with their lack of traditional composition and variation in depth. In Pearblossom Highway, no two pictures are taken from the same spot- Hockney walked all around the landscape and took each picture from up close to the subject, therefore having a great amount of detail visible in it. So the objects in the photo - stop sign, the road, the trees - are all placed to imitate the road leading to a central viewpoint on the horizon, but on closer look are in fact multiple viewpoints pieced together. This kind of manipulation of depth, scale and detail involves the viewer in the collage in the way a traditional photograph cannot, and is inspired by Cubism. You aren’t simply viewing the painting as an unimpassioned spectator, you are walking around the landscape with Hockney, crouching down to look at the trash by the side of the road, standing on a ladder to see the cracks in the enamel paint on the stop sign and looking at the spikes of the Joshua trees. It is the realest view of the scene you can have - a view no one person is capable of seeing at one moment in time.

“What's astonishing about the Hockney is how big and how compelling the picture is. It's one of the great landscapes." says director of J. Paul Getty Museum, John Walsh. Hockney is a painter, and approaches this collage with the same eye for detail and composition. The fractured sky has been arranged with those shades of blue and edited before printing to achieve the effect of vastness. This makes this piece a photograph, a drawing and a painting- the artist isn’t merely reproducing a landscape, he is taking you on a guided tour of it, himself. I think this piece would make a great addition to the Places & Spaces module as it experiments with traditional mediums and landscape painting in a way never seen before, and is an important advancement in applying theories of painting to photography. It is a picture made of pictures of Pearblossom Highway, but once put together it is so much more than just that.


Critical analysis of a painting written as part of the course requirements for Modern Art & Ideas (a course by MoMA on Coursera).

* Picture reproduced from the J Paul Getty Museum website (www.getty.edu)

Sneha Mehta