LOS ANGELES — The exhibition "David Hockney Retrospective: Photoworks" has made its lone American stop at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the city Hockney has called home off and on since 1963. The show, which first opened in Europe in 1997, runs through Oct. 21.
"His is a playful work with something that is very serious about our way of seeing things," said Reinhold Misselbeck, the German curator of the exhibition of Hockney's photographs.
Hockney was born in 1937 in England, where he studied at the Royal College of Art. He first gained renown in the early 1960s as a member of the Pop Art movement. He is best known today for his paintings and drawings, which show the influence of artists such as Matisse and Picasso.
Hockney said he began taking photography seriously as a medium late in his career. Now, with new advances in digital imagery, he said photography increasingly resembles painting and drawing.
Peter Goulds, who has been Hockney's dealer for more than two decades, said the exhibit demonstrates what it took the artist years to recognize: that he is as capable painting with a camera as he is with a brush.
The photographic works are divided into four themes — landscapes, still lifes, pools and portraits — all of which crop up in his paintings as well.
"It gives a chance to see how important the camera is in his work, and it gives him — David — an idea of how the camera gives insight into optics," Goulds said.
Hockney explores the influence of the science of optics on art in his forthcoming book, "Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters."
"We're only just finding out the techniques and methods used in the past," Hockney said.
Included in the show is what is perhaps Hockney's best-known work: a jumbled collage of color photographs of a forlorn intersection in the California desert.
The collage, "Pearblossom Highway, 11-18th April, 1986," is an assembly of individual photographs too numerous to count, each layered upon the other like paint slathered on a canvas. "My photographer friends said it was a painting," Hockney said. "I said it's a photograph; I used a camera."
Other collages, like two wall-sized views of the Grand Canyon, are more strictly ordered. They give a sweeping view of the massive landscape that perhaps only a large canvas — but no single photograph — could otherwise capture, Hockney said.
"I always thought the Grand Canyon was unphotographable," he said.