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David Hockney, Cafe, designed for the Metropolitan Opera's Parade triple bill program, 1979
David Hockney, Cafe, designed for the Metropolitan Opera's Parade triple bill program, 1979
Courtesy Hatje Cantz

Palm Tree as Artistic Muse: It’s Not Just an L.A. Thing

Paradise Is Now: Palm Trees in Art is a must-have book for any self-respecting coffee table in Los Angeles.

Publisher Hatje Cantz has been making serious incursions into the Taschen-dominated fancy art book market, bringing out an impressive slate of recent anthology titles, such as this tome celebrating the visual history of the palm tree in painting, sculpture and photography, as well as advertising, fashion, environmentalism and pop culture.

Works by John Baldessari, Rodney Graham, Secundino Hernández, David Hockney, Alicja Kwade, Sigmar Polke, Ed Ruscha and Rirkrit Tiravanija, among scores of others, offer images that are at times whimsical, at times contemplative and even dark, witty, ironic and sensual, signifying wealth, luxury, exoticism and a certain balminess in the soul.

Ed Ruscha, from A Few Palm Trees, 1971
Ed Ruscha, from A Few Palm Trees, 1971
Courtesy Hatje Cantz

The book is also pretty solid summer reading, with essays contributed by Robert Grunenberg, Leif Randt, Norman Rosenthal and author Bret Easton Ellis, whose late-'80s love/hate letter Less Than Zero made excellent use of these arboreal set-pieces when it was turned into a generational anti-anthem of a film.

Actually, as a side note, the movie business has its own love/hate relationship with the majestic palm. On the one hand, cinematographers can get iconic shots, from the rolling boulevards in “Beverly Hills Cop” to the ominous dusky skylines of “To Live and Die in L.A.” On the other, it’s super hard to shoot around them sometimes. Post-production technicians spend hundreds of man-hours digitally erasing them from the frame. But we digress. Though the bane of location scouts, mostly palm trees are amazing and we love them.

Side note No. 2 — palm trees are not actually native to SoCal. Which doesn’t mean they haven’t thrived here — obviously they have. Just as people of all kinds come here from all over the world, and thrive. But that’s enough reality — let’s get back to the fantasy...

Paradise Is Now is available from Artbook | D.A.P.

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