Dennis Hopper: The Lost Album at the Royal Academy

By Linda Mora

I am an Abstract Expressionist and an Action Painter by nature, and a Duchampian finger pointer by choice. As Duchamp said, ‘the artist of the future will merely point his finger and say its art – and it will be art.’ – Dennis Hopper

In the collection of photographs called The Lost Album, currently on display at the Royal Academy, Dennis Hopper is without a doubt a true artist. The collection features over 400 vintage silver gelatin prints dating from 1970 that Hopper took between 1961 and 1967. He was just twenty-five in 1961 when he was given a camera by his new wife, Brooke Hayward. By 1967 he had stopped taking pictures.

The collection as part of the exhibition is housed in three large gallery spaces in the Royal Academy’s Burlington Gardens site. Every image selected is immortalised in the vintage print created by Hopper himself in 1970 for his first major exhibition.

Remarkably, Hopper photographed a vast range of subjects. The exhibition starts with photographs of artists from the early 1960s that he snapped while hanging around the LA art world; Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Peter Black and Wallace Berman are some of the recognizable names lining the walls of the first gallery.

A key counter-cultural figure of the LA music scene, Hopper hung out with and captured the likes of Jefferson Airplane, The Byrds, The Lovin’ Spoonful and Buffalo Springfield. He also snapped interesting creative types, such as fellow actor friends Paul Newman, Roger Vadim, Jane Fonda and David Hemmings, along with fashion designer Rudi Gernreich and his muse, Peggy Moffitt. However, celebrities aren’t the most interesting element of his work. Hopper’s unparalleled vision is due to the vast subject matter he was interested in and to his unwavering quest to document social commentary through the eye of his camera lens.

The exhibition takes on a sociocultural awareness by including images of politically influential icons from the period such as Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking at a Southern civil rights rally in 1965. As Hopper put it, ‘I want to document something. I wanted to leave something that I thought would be a record of it.’ As a self-described hippie, Hopper was also involved in the free speech movement. As such, he documented The Watts Riots, Hyde Park religious fanatics and love-ins in San Francisco, all in all giving a uniquely colourful portrait of America and England in the 1960s.

The final gallery characterises Hopper’s unique vision, which beautifully shows an artistic sensibility. Close-ups of corks and corkscrews, along with paint blisters and LA shop interiors depict an obsessive attention to detail, a nod to pop art and a sophisticated aesthetic.

Indeed, Hopper was a true visionary whose pictures captured an extraordinary essence of the 1960s that will continue to excite and inspire a contemporary audience.

Dennis Hopper: The Lost Album opened at London’s Royal Academy on 26 June 2014. It closes 19 October 2014. Information can be found here . On Saturday 11 October, Linda will be curating the musical selection at Sixties Snapshot Late, a unique collaboration between the Royal Academy and UAL commemorating this exhibition. Tickets can be purchased here.

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