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Hockney nude brings Hollywood to Newbury

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Hockney and Hollywood: at The Base, Greenham

David Hockney is an artist who has always been interested in vision - how humans perceive reality – and in the application of old and new technologies to his practice: the camera obscura, the Polaroid, and most recently the iPad.

In the early 1980s he moved temporarily away from painting to produce composite photographic “joiners”, a technique pioneered by 19th-century photographers. From that period of experimentation he produced Nude, 17th June 1984, a life-sized photomontage, now on display at The Base.

Hockney and Hollywood Ref: 43-0421
Hockney and Hollywood Ref: 43-0421

In this period Hockney initially used a Polaroid camera, which took photographs and produced a physical print of each exposure. He took sequences of photographs, then montaged them together, thus creating a physical presentation of the images and a representation of time itself, since the time lag between each image was apparent. He later switched to lab-produced 35ml photographs, varying exposures to introduce fluidity and movement, and taking photos at different times rather than sequentially, sometimes also making paintings of his composite landscapes.

Nude features the actress Theresa Russell, and was commissioned by director Nicolas Roeg for his film Insignificance, in which Russell starred as Marilyn Monroe. The explicit, life-size montage shows a blonde Russell lying on pink satin, the whole a mélange of fleshy rose tones - face, lips, tongue, nipples – her pubic hair the only dark hue.

The process and the resulting composite image share much with Cubism: its multiple facets, shifting viewpoints, illusion of depth, and distortions of perspective. It gives “all-round” perception of the subject – how we actually see people and objects in reality – rather than a “straight-on” view. Russell simultaneously faces the viewer and twists away from them.

Hockney and Hollywood at The Base Ref: 43-0421
Hockney and Hollywood at The Base Ref: 43-0421

Times change, and so do attitudes. Nude is an interesting comment on the mores of the time: an artwork very much of its period. It is not only a powerful illustration of the male gaze and the objectivisation of woman as sex symbol (somewhat ironic since Hockney is gay), but the subject herself, part of the same system, was also playing a stereotypical game of titillation. It now makes for rather uncomfortable viewing. We are looking at a pin-up, seen through a heavyweight artist’s eye, but a pin-up nevertheless. The star system made Monroe famous, but also destroyed her.

As Hockney worked, Roeg documented the process. Large colour and black and white photographs show the artist’s creative practice as he prepared the shoot and directed Russell in the poses he wanted, and the work of the team enabling and recording it: assistants, photographers, make-up artists. Display cases contain small colour photographs, including mock-ups of the montage, also taken on the day. These are snapshots, but an interesting historical record.

The show runs until 28 November (Wed to Sun). Booking required. Ticket slots from 10-4pm.

Hockney and Hollywood Ref: 43-0421
Hockney and Hollywood Ref: 43-0421

Showing in The Runway Gallery adjacent to the Hockney show is Wendy Carrig’s Common People, an exhibition of black and white photographs taken in the peace camps in 1985, and Peace Camp, Jemima Brown’s small installation marking the 40th anniversary of the camps. Both exhibitions run till 30 November, and have been previously reviewed.

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