It’s easy to understand how concrete swimming pools became a wonderland dreamscape for the cigar chomping English painter David Hockney. Hockney first visited Los Angeles in 1963, a year after graduating from the Royal College of Art, London. He became immediately obsessed with the California life, more relaxed and sensual than the grey-on-grey dampness of England. Between 1964 and 1971, Hockney made numerous paintings of swimming pools, each capturing the constantly changing surface of water, often in the presence of a young male swimmer, another of Hockney’s favorite subjects.
His now famous painting, “The Big Splash,” became an international success and was exhibited in suburban homes everywhere, in replica at least, from downtown Los Angeles to New Jersey. Whilst a real-time splash lasts only a few seconds, Hockney took nearly two weeks to freeze this moment in time, labouring over the shape-shifting physics of water with his fluid brush. We are sent into a liquid trance by Hockney’s masterful use of acrylic colors, which come with names like cobalt blue, ultramarine, burnt sienna, raw umber, Hooker’s green, Naples yellow and titanium white.
The California years have been better documented than Hockney’s earlier artistic period, not just because Hockney’s swimming-pool paintings made him famous, but because of a film made about him, “A Bigger Splash”, directed by Jack Hazan. The making of the film is a fascinating story in its own right: rather than creating a documentary about Hockney’s art, Hazan focused on the break-up of Hockney’s five-year relationship with his young lover, Californian painter Peter Schlesinger.
Hockney relished living as a flamboyant English dandy in America, but his art and work ethic were underpinned by his Northern English roots. “Get up and work immediately,” he painted on the chest of drawers by his bed. At college, he was noted for arriving early and staying late, so as not to be distracted by fellow students. Not surprising then that swimming pools are just one subject in Hockney’s vast oeuvre; he is extremely versatile and has experimented widely.
In LA in the 1960s, he discovered the possibilities of acrylic paint. Later came his obsession with photography and use of collage. These days, his latest work, mostly English landscapes, is “painted” on an iPad and iPhone.
Text by Howard Collinge- The Unique Creatures