It was inevitable. Death always is, especially when it's hastened by cancer. Still, I am stopped in my tracks at the news that Dennis Hopper's body and mind finally gave out this morning in his Venice home. Perhaps, it's best. No one should live through such pain.
Like so many fellow writers probably rushing right now to post interviews they had with the giant, I'm sharing my own. We talked several times over the years, since, in healthier times, Mr. Hopper was a fixture on the art-fashion scene in L.A. When Hugh Hefner hosted a screening of the "The Last Movie" at the Playboy Mansion in May 2005, it couldn't have been a better birthday present, even if it was a week or so after my 37th. I also really liked the 1971 picture, which many consider the beginning of the end in the auteur's career. I think, like so many else in his life, he was simply head of his time. Crazy, too. But crazy can be good. Crazy moves us forward.
I finally had the opportunity to spend a full hour one-on-one with him in late March 2006 for the opening of grand survey opening that weekend. When he asked to sign one of the oversized posters sitting on the front counter, a repro of the Andy Warhol photograph he shot in 1963. The image reminded me of an old crush, oddly enough, and I always liked it. To Mr. Hopper's offer, I wasn't about to decline. It would be rude. And why the hell not? I'm not one to get my ya-ya's from signed anything. But this was Dennis Hopper.
My story, "Sign Language," ran in the April 4, 2006 issue of WWD.
LOS ANGELES – For Dennis Hopper, seeing his photographs of his artist pals finally realized as billboard-sized paintings (at 14 by 22 feet) is no small miracle. "And right here along Miracle Mile," he laughs, referring to the landmark neighborhood and home to the cavernous Ace Gallery, which is showcasing an exhibition of his work now through July 1.
At last Thursday's opening, four days after the season wrap for his NBC series "E-Ring," Hopper held court among 1,000-plus guests, including co-star Benjamin Bratt, Ed Ruscha, Lauren Hutton, Anjelica Huston and Robert Graham, Radha Mitchell, Michael Keaton, Viggo Mortensen, Kelly Lynch and Mitch Glazer.
Ever the embodiment of West Coast cool – even though he was born 70 years ago in Dodge City, Kan. – Hopper took time out to riff on the L.A. art scene and his own vast collection.
WWD: This latest retrospective follows the 2001 shows at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and later that year at the MAK in Vienna. How does this survey differ?
Dennis Hopper: Amsterdam was a much bigger show, much more complicated. I could've covered a lot of other subject matter here – Japan, the musicians I knew, my house at 1712 Crescent Heights. There are none of my light boxes here. I wanted to keep it simple. I never focused on the artist before, so I decided to show everyone I knew – Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns.
WWD: It's quite a historical album of artists, gallery owners and actors, mostly photographed before they became famous.
D.H.: I wanted to do something connected to the Centre Pompidou show in Paris [now on, it's called "Los Angeles 1955-1985"] here in Los Angeles. These are really the players who made it an art capital. It was really an underground group of us who were persistent enough not to give up.
WWD: Did you find yourself trying to convince the rest of the world there was art in Los Angeles?
D.H.: Of course. I've been saying it for years. That's why it was incredible for the Pompidou to recognize it. But so many artists and art magazines, like ArtForum, abandoned us for New York when they became famous. Ed Ruscha stuck it out.
WWD: Will you get back to your studio [converted from an old movie house] in Taos to paint?
D.H.: Right now I'm doing a lot of digital work at home [in Venice, Calif.]. I've got a big Epson printer and I'm just cranking it out. I feel like I'm painting with light. It's like…magic. They really look like paintings.
WWD: You were such a gallery urchin. Do you still frequent them?
D.H.: I show at Bergamot Station [a complex of several galleries in Santa Monica], so I go over there a bit. Otherwise, I'm sort of out of what's happening in Los Angeles right now. Strangely, I know more about what's going on in New York. Friends like Julian Schnabel and Jeff Koons are connected to the younger artists, more generous with their time with them – more than the guys I know out here, like Ed Ruscha and Ed Moses. Maybe I shouldn't say that [he laughs].
WWD: You've called yourself a compulsive collector. Are you still?
D.H.: I don't store anything but my own work. The last thing I bought was a John Valadez pastel a few months ago. But I won't sell my stuff I collect, so I don't have the wall space anymore. And I have big walls.
WWD: With this third survey, are you sensing your place in art history?
D.H.: I'm not saying I've got a "Mona Lisa." But I feel there are images like the one of Warhol with the flower, certain images that will go on in time. I tend to concentrate on those, the images I feel strongly about.
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