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Los Angeles


Stalking David Hockney

I’m just back from Los Angeles and, despite having lived there for ten years, felt like I was seeing it for the first time. My eye, accustomed to the wobbly stone and green and brown landscape that is the Cotswolds, was startled by this paean to mid-century design, all stucco cubes in mustard yellows, olive greens and shell pinks set against an aching blue sky. Now I understand that only an Englishman could and did paint A Bigger Splash.

As a teenager my sister had a poster of Hockney’s iconic California image hanging in her bedroom. We lived in Florida but every summer we visited my grandparents in SoCal for two weeks, and we loved that poster because Hockney could have painted it from their back patio. The only difference was that the diving board was rotated 45 degrees in Hockney’s version and instead of a director’s chair, my grandparents had a non-adjustable teal green chaise lounge. It was constructed of hundreds of rubber chords strung taut on a metal frame, and it left ripples of angry red welts across your skin after just a few minutes of lying on it. Still it looked good in its own mid-century, minimalist way. I’d even go as far as to say it would have been a better choice than Hockney’s deck chair, it’s low horizontal line echoing the planes of the sliding glass doors and flat roof.

In 2005, right before I left Los Angeles to move to London, I spent a lunch hour at an exhibit of Hockney’s Yorkshire paintings in watercolours. I was alone except for the gallery assistant in this quiet mecca, a block from the riot of Los Angeles that is Venice Beach, and the fact that Hockney had turned his artistic attention to the rural landscape of England felt somehow like a private pre-welcome party for me. The following year I spent more lunch hours at a second exhibit of Hockney’s Yorkshire paintings, these in oil, at a gallery on Derring Street in London around the corner from my then office on Hanover Square. The Cotswolds weren’t even in my consciousness back then, but Hockney’s images of wheat and rolling hills and country roads covered in a canopy of trees were burning themselves into my psyche for later recall. It was like Hockney knew about my move to the country before I did.

One of the joys of reading is that thrill of recognition when an author conveys something you have felt or thought or done and does so with flair and sometimes wit and above all authenticity. These moments offer the paradox of human connection via the largely individual pursuits of reading and, for the author, writing. David Hockney’s California and Yorkshire paintings make me feel the same way. I know he has painted other places and people and things, but these paintings are the ones that make me feel understood, perhaps like only and Englishman could.

P.S. Artsy’s David Hockney page is a cool resource on all things Hockney. 

California England

The First Hop: Los Angeles to London – May 2005

Before I can explain how I ended up in the Cotswolds, I guess I have to explain how I ended up in England at all. Los Angeles was my home for a decade before moving to England. I spent the six years previous to L.A. living variously in North Carolina, Italy, Singapore, and Malaysia. In L.A., for the first time in a long time, I was exactly where I wanted to be.

The year before we got married, husband and I bought a tiny 1930’s bungalow with a big backyard in Santa Monica. We affectionately referred to the house as “Little Yellow”, a nickname borne from a sickly sweet letter our realtor (grandly known as estate agents over here) encouraged us to write to the sellers telling them “how much we loved the house and knew it was for us from the moment we saw it” to accompany our well below asking price offer. It’s hard for me to imagine this going over so well after experiencing the brutality of the London property market, but being Southern California, it worked.

Life found a stride in the years at Little Yellow. I spent Saturday mornings shopping at the farmers’ market, then cooking a big lunch and eating it with husband out on the back deck in the sunshine. I had hit a professional stride as a project manager after a false start in finance, we had a moody cat and a loving dog, and all was well with the world. When my British husband first started floating the idea of moving back to England sometime after 9/11 and just over a year into our life in this new house, I staunchly resisted. I felt like he was pulling the rug out from under me and this cosy life, to the point where it became a regular topic in my weekly therapy sessions (everyone in L.A. has a therapist, really). My therapist’s advice was to call husband’s bluff.

So I did.

I told husband I’d move to London, but I wasn’t going to spend any money to get there. If he could find a job that paid to get us and our stuff across the Atlantic, I’d go. To the amazement of both of us, within a couple of months he did. Not only did he find a job, he seemed to have found the perfect job in the perfect industry paying the perfect money. Some bluff, I thought, and silently cursed the thousands spent on that therapist.

But as the time for the move approached it was, as my shrink predicted, husband who got cold feet. What the therapist failed to predict was that it was me who would become the cheerleader for the move abroad. My change of heart was facilitated by my irritation with my job at the time, more accurately my irritation with my idiotic boss, known in my household as “The Chadster”. He was from Texas and wore hair gel. Moving to London struck me as a convenient way to escape from this job I hadn’t been in for long without damaging my resumé (admitting defeat and finding a better job in L.A. somehow seemed less obvious).

Even stranger, I started to say things to husband like, “I’m 33, I have a lovely house in a lovely place, the best burrito in the world within walking distance, I own a Kitchenaid mixer, and I feel retired. Is this all there is?”

“Is this all there is?” That little question was quite popular with the thirty-somethings at the Santa Monica Zen Center where husband and I had spent the last few years as practitioners. (Shrinks and alternative religions are de riguer in L.A., I swear) And the sensai was consistent and clear, even a bit smug, in answering this question: “Yes, this is all there is.”

Which added even more fuel to my fire. If this is all there is then we might as well take the opportunity to do “this” in a country where flights to Europe are cheap and you get 23 vacation days standard per year. Whatever I said convinced us both. Six weeks later I walked into 334 square London feet that was now my home.