Tuesday 24 June 2014

Dennis Hopper: The Lost Album

Where's America?
Royal Academy of Arts, London
To 19 October
Burlington Gardens entrance

Before he was an actor (Blue Velvet) and director (Easy Rider), Dennis Hopper (1936-2010) was a photographer. These snaps date from 1961-1969 (which took me from 9 to 18). After he made Easy Rider, he never took another picture - he said. Here's a candy-coloured tangerine-flake review.

There always seemed to be a party going on somewhere else. The beautiful people were older than me. From Mary Quant and Courrèges to hippy love-ins in 1967. Structured to unstructured. Back-combing and rollers to wash it, brush it, leave it. I wore dressing-up clothes - a black velvet jacket cut down from a dress, long orange skirt, bare feet. 

Faces of the 60s, a new kind of fashionable face. David Hemmings became unrecognisable; David McCallum never changed. Bill Cosby as the Green Man in a lot of ivy. Brian Jones in a paisley shirt, playing the sitar.

Indian bedspreads. Cane "peacock chairs". Behold we make all things new.

Man reading a bondage comic. Jane Fonda in a very "straight" tailored wedding outfit, 1965, next to two guys reading the original Barbarella comic upside down. Comics became Roy Lichtenstein.

Set of The Sons of Katie Elder, 1965. John Wayne aged 58, on a horse, hand on hip, seen through a camera tripod.

"Long-haired" musicians who have let their short-back-and-sides grow out. How shocked people were.

Martin Luther King rally - a straight guy in a suit holding up a furled umbrella. On the end is a hand-written sign: US HISTORIANS.

We Give Blue Chip Stamps, holey washing, rusty cars. Downtown LA, homeless people beside a fence among sunflowers. Two beautifully cared-for little black girls surrounded by litter, beside a vacant lot with KEEP OUT signs. Holding a white doll. Kirk Douglas said he had worked hard so as not to have to sleep on the floor - and now his hippy sons were living in squats, sleeping on mattresses on the floor.

Sitting on the grass was subversive. Love-in 1967 like a painting by Richard Dadd - the same kind of grass in the foreground, girls dressed like fairies.

Hippies collected trash like fairground horses. The art they made became a highly priced commodity.

Layers of peeling poster, "Elect....". Low-rent shop interiors. DRESSES 25 cents each. Mirror reflects utility pole and US flag. Another mirror reflects nothing. Furs by... Comer and Doran Beauty School. Capitalism is constantly destroying the past.

Biker style has lasted better. I never saw Easy Rider.

Empty roads, empty landscape - where did the people go? Monument Valley, John Wayne again. Looking for America. How did we get here? American hippies dressed as characters from American history, revived stained glass, Tiffany lamps, old advertising signs. Everything that was supposed to be painted over by modern design. US HISTORIANS.

A TV screen shows the lunar surface. Where were you that night?

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