Mandi Lennard, of brand consultancy, Mandi’s Basement, on David Hockney’s photo collage, Nude (Theresa Russell)*
GB Tell me why you chose this.
ML Jonathan Silver who founded Salts Mill in Yorkshire was a great inspiration. He had a cool fashion store in Leeds where I grew up. He first met David Hockney in his dad’s burger bar, and then got him to design a cover for the school magazine. When Silver later took over a decrepit building in Saltaire, turning it into a thriving cultural centre, it inevitably became a great homage to Hockney’s work, which is how I came to discover this photo montage.
GB David Hockney has experimented with style a great deal. What draws you to his photo collages more than his paintings?
ML This image literally hit me in the face. He’s taken its subject, Theresa Russell, to the point of ugliness where she looks incredibly beautiful, giving her strength and a raw vulnerability. There are so many tantalising elements – the silk satin sheets next to a bare wood floor, the tackiness of the idea of silk sheets against the brutality of the image, the audacity of her tongue showing between her teeth, like she’s savouring this whole experience.
GB Hockney has said that his photographic joiners and collages are closer to the way we experience things in reality than a one-point perspective picture. Would you say that’s true?
ML Yes, imagery presented in this way is so vivid, it’s shocking in its realism.
GB Hockney was influenced by Cubism and in particular Picasso. But he didn’t think people should imitate Picasso as he felt Cubism was an attitude rather than a style. Did he achieve that do you think?
ML He felt photography was flawed by being ‘one-eyed’, whereas Cubism was total vision. You’re always attracted to certain things in a picture, so by using his ‘joiners’ style of montage he created movement. In this image, you don’t just see the breast face on, but there is a side view too; these elements give this image incredible depth – to have to focus on an image while processing this, adds thrust.
GB Hockney made some quite grand claims about photography and film’s inability to capture our true experience. Do you feel that you learn something about Theresa Russell here that you couldn’t from one of her films?
ML There is a starkness to this work that engages you with the subject as an individual, not dissimilar to a raw film role, so in that respect, it’s just another visual medium – be it a meatier role.
GB Technology has moved on an incredible amount since 1984. Do you think this looks old-fashioned now? Do you think Hockney’s aims to break with traditional perspective seem naive?
ML This image will never look old-fashioned, it depicts a brutal modernism. I don’t feel he gratuitously tried to break tradition. He knew normal photography wasn’t capturing what he was seeing, and his resolve to achieve what he needed from such portraiture, is startling.
GB Do you think that beauty was something Hockney was aiming for with this work?
ML Yes; it’s challenging to many, but that is part of the allure – the shock that if you are being honest, you find it beautiful – you are almost having to admit this to yourself, then you question your morality…
GB It was important to Hockney that these pictures took time to put together and couldn’t be reproduced perfectly because you could only photograph the whole work, not the component parts. Is the original that much more beautiful to you than the one you see on the screen here?
ML My experience of it as an original was heightened by the context of seeing it in a gallery amongst his paintings, and the fact that this type of imagery was unfamiliar to me at the time. In 1986, it was used as the exhibition poster entitled ‘XVI RIP Arles (Nude)’ for Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie in Arles, France. I have a framed poster of this, which has been behind my desk in my office for many years. I still enjoy the beauty of its harsh realism every day. It sits next to a Zandra Rhodes lithograph (Shown at the Round House, 1975). Even the version I found online to email to you is intoxicating.
GB What makes something worthy of the word Beauty to you?
ML The visual explosion of all the elements. Taking something as close to ugly while still retaining allure. And in the same vein, restraint and subtlety can be just as powerful. I love Hockney’s honesty.
*Image from Bonhams