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May 11, 2010

Dennis Hopper (A Keen Eye)

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Rudi Fuchs and Jan Hein Sassen
Stedelijk Museum Amersterdam
NAI Publishers Rotterdam - 2001

I first became dimly aware of Dennis Hopper as a photographer not too long after Easy Rider had become a well established hit film. A friend of mine pointed out that Hopper had done the photos of Ike and Tina Turner on their "River Deep, Mountain High" album. About fifteen years ago, when I was trying my hand at photography, I picked up a magazine that had a special black and white issue. Among the photos were several shot by Hopper in the mid Sixties of Bill Cosby, Jane Fonda, and perhaps ironically, John Wayne and Dean Martin, on the set of The Sons of Katie Elder. I say ironically, because that film was directed by Henry Hathaway, whom Hopper had a legendary clash with several years earlier, leading to Hopper's acting career limited to television guest roles and several spartan budgeted films at American International. A book, Pictures of Peace, included some other photos by Hopper, including one of a biker couple, shot in 1965.

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I knew Dennis Hopper did some painting, but until viewing the photos illustrating the exhibit, had no idea about the extent of Hopper's work. Not just painting, but installation pieces, and work with a variety of mediums. I have neither the academic chops nor the vocabulary to discuss Dennis Hopper as an artist outside of what he has done in film. In some of the work, I can see connections with the film work, but I understand it more on an intuitive level, based on the use of color and imagery. If perhaps there is too much emphasis on connecting the art work here with Easy Rider, it may be because it is Hopper's most easily identifiable work as a filmmaker and actor. The narrative can be described as one of an artist who works with painting and photography, abandoned in favor of filmmaking, and returned to in one degree or another.

One biographical bit that was very surprising was to know that Dennis Hopper had about 300 paintings that were lost in a fire in 1961. Almost tying things up in a literal fashion was reading that Hopper's studio in Taos, New Mexico, was a former movie theater. There is the unexpected collaboration with Marcel Duchamp, and an exploration of the influence of fellow Kansan, Bruce Conner, a frequent subject of Hopper's photographs. Of the films Hopper directed, Colors has been the film that most rejuvenated Hopper's interest in photography and painting, the film title given additional extratextual meanings. Take what you want to from the two essays in this book. I wish there were some decent photos of the paintings that were available online. The paintings, even in small reproductions here, and the photos, are all worth a look, especially in consideration of an artist who in any of his chosen mediums could not escape the description of "intense".

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Posted by peter at May 11, 2010 12:48 AM


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Posted by: Radu Prisacaru at May 12, 2010 09:21 AM