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09.24.09

Dennis Hopper's 1960s

Before he hit the road in Easy Rider, the actor spent years photographing Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and Paul Newman. VIEW HIS GALLERY of art icons during their prime.

Dennis Hopper died Saturday at the age of 74. Before the legendary actor hit the road in Easy Rider, he spent years photographing Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and Paul Newman. VIEW HIS PHOTOS of art icons during their prime. Plus, more on Art Beast.

A Hollywood legend, Dennis Hopper appeared in countless acting roles since his 1955 debut in the Richard Boone television series Medic and the Nicholas Ray film Rebel Without a Cause. The director of Easy Rider, Out of the Blue, and Colors, Hopper is recognized as a man of many talents, but very few people know him as an outstanding photographer who chronicled the rebellious 1960s. Setting the record straight, a comprehensive survey show at New York’s Tony Shafrazi Gallery, which was on view in the fall, and a massive, new Taschen monograph present a visual side of the actor that rivals his greatest motion-picture feats.

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Although Hopper had been taking pictures since the mid-‘50s, his style of capturing intimate portraits of friends, dynamic elements of urban landscapes, and the changing world around him came to fruition in the ‘60s. He documented the Beat and Pop Art scenes, the soul and hippie music realms, moments from his movie world, and the civil-rights movement. Shooting in black and white, Hopper made a graphic body of work that reflects the delights and troubles of the era. The Shafrazi show, titled Signs of the Times, presents 110 photographs, shot between 1961 and 1967, and more than a dozen new paintings that blow up and dynamically transform the artist’s most iconic images.

Reviewing the work, it seems that Hopper met nearly every hipster worth knowing in his time. One minute he’s lunching in New York with Andy Warhol, Henry Geldzahler, and David Hockney and the next he’s frolicking on Malibu Beach with Bruce Conner, Toni Basil, and Teri Garr. His portraits of Jasper Johns, Ed Ruscha, Robert Rauschenberg, and Roy Lichtenstein are taken up close and at ease—conveying a trust between the photographer and his subjects. Meanwhile, images of signs, broken windows, graffiti, and shredded newspaper reveal Hopper’s affinity with the creative talents he documented.

His photos of a relaxed, shirtless Paul Newman and the cowboy-playing John Wayne and Dean Martin on the set of The Sons of Katie Elder are visual gems.

Camera in hand, Hopper also turned his working moments on film sets and friendships with fellow actors into eternal memories. His photos of a relaxed, shirtless Paul Newman and the cowboy-playing John Wayne and Dean Martin on the set of The Sons of Katie Elder are visual gems. Equally, Hopper’s shots of stars of the ‘60s music scene—including Brian Jones playing a sitar, Phil Spector in the studio, and Ike Turner playing the piano while wife Tina scrubs his shirt on a washboard—make amazing pictures. Add the love-ins in Griffin Park, biker couples, poets, and protesters in Selma, Alabama, and Hopper’s vision is one that could only belong to a freewheeling spirit.

Taken as a whole, Signs of the Times presents an astonishing life well lived and—as every Twitter, and Flickr fan will attest today—a colorful life well documented.

Plus: Check out Art Beast for galleries, interviews with artists, and photos from the hottest parties.

Paul Laster is the editor of Artkrush.com, a contributing editor at Flavorpill.com and Art Asia Pacific, and a contributing writer at Time Out New York and Art in America.