Hockney embarked on his first trip to California in December of 1963. His desire to visit Los Angeles had been aroused by the words of the writer John Rechy. As the setting of Rechy’s novel ‘City of Night’, which had been published that year, Pershing Square was one of Hockney’s first stops upon his arrival in LA. Rechy described:
“I was seeing Pershing Square, Los Angeles, now for the first time…the nervous fugitives from Times Square, Market Street SF, the French Quarter — masculine hustlers looking for lonely fruits to score from…the scattered junkies, the small-time pushers, the queens, the sad panhandlers, the lonely exiled nymphs haunting the entrance to the men’s head, the fruits with the hungry eyes and jingling coins; the tough teenage chicks — ‘dittybops’ — making it with hot hustlers…all amid the incongruous piped music and the flowers — twin fountains gushing rainbow coloured: the world of lonely America squeezed into Pershing Square”.
In ‘Pacific Mutual Life’, Hockney shows a throng of elegant palm trees gathered at the foot of the Pacific Mutual Life Building, indicated by the giant letters which graced its facade and the iconic clock telling people it was ‘time to insure’. Although Pershing square wasn’t quite the bustle of salubrious activity Hockney was hoping for, having cleaned up dramatically since its Fifties heyday, it obviously maintained a symbolic appeal for Hockney as an emblem for his fantasies of California. It was the motif for not only this print but also a large oil on canvas, ‘Building Pershing Square’ of 1964.
Up to this point, Hockney had focused on expressing personal ideas and imagery derived from books in his prints. ’Pacific Mutual Life’ however was a new departure for him in that it was a direct response to the physical contours of the city around him. Hockney told Melvyn Bragg in a 1972 interview, “There were no paintings of Los Angeles, people then didn’t even know what it looked like. And when I was there they were still finishing some of the big freeways. I remember seeing, within the first week, a ramp of freeway going up into the air, and at first it looked like a ruin and I thought, my God this place needs its Piranesi; Los Angeles could have a Piranesi, so here I am!”. This work was his first foray in print down this new path and paved the way for later series such as ‘A Hollywood Collection’ published in 1965.
David Hockney first ventured into printmaking as a teenager in 1954 while studying at Bradford College of Art. It was here that he printed three early lithographs: ‘Self Portrait’, ‘Woman with a Sewing Machine’ and ‘Fish and Chip Shop’. Despite his aptitude for the medium it was not until 1964 and his introduction to the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles that Hockney was to re-engage with the technique, and ‘Pacific Mutual Life’ was his first lithograph in over a decade. Tamarind was instrumental in re-establishing lithography as an important printmaking technique in the burgeoning contemporary art scene in America. For Hockney the workshop held a special significance as it was here that he met Ken Tyler, printer and later publisher, who was a central figure in his later career as a lithographer.
|Image Size/Paper Size||51 x 63.5 cm|
|Collections||Tate Gallery, London; Hammer Museum UCLA, Los Angeles; LACMA, Los Angeles|