Artist David Hockney was once quoted as saying, “Photography is all right, if you don’t mind looking at the world from the point of view of a paralyzed Cyclops for a split second.”
Twenty-five years ago this week, Hockney had to imitate that “paralyzed Cyclops” nearly 800 times to create Pearblossom Hwy., 11-18 April 1986, #2. The large creation has earned a spot in cultural history as one of the most iconic photo-collages created during the past century.
Hockney’s intention was to show a road trip through the desert from inside an unseen vehicle, simultaneously capturing the views seen by both a driver and passenger. He achieved this by using false perspectives which emphasized what each traveler would be most interested in looking at: the road signs on the driver’s side of the vehicle, and the Joshua Trees and litter that lines the left side of the car.
Hockney traveled just east of the town of Pearblossom in the Antelope Valley to snap the 800 photos. The site is on 165th Street looking south towards its intersection with California 138 (Pearblossom Highway).
When I first got the itch to find the site I had no online luck, and was told authoritatively by an Antelope Valley historian that the spot didn’t exist, but was itself a photo-collage created from several locations.
This didn’t feel right to me, and after a few road trips and a couple of Google Earth searches, my wife Kimi and I were able to find the location. I later discovered an online interview with Hockney made at the site which confirmed our hunch.
As I wrote last September (High Culture in the High Desert), when we finally reached the intersection it looked largely the same, albeit a bit less lonely than in 1986. The most obvious change was the absence of the landmark “Stop” and “Stop Ahead” signs which had both been replaced a few years earlier with a traffic light when the 138 was widened to four-lanes.
On that day, for a split second, I got to look at the world from the point of view of a paralyzed Cyclops myself when I snapped this photo.
(Pearblossom Highway #2 is currently housed at the Getty Museum, where we were lucky enough to see it a couple of years ago during a rare public viewing.)