Suffused with the luminous, jewel-like colors of turquoise, aquamarine, and jet-black, David Hockney’s Piscine de Medianoche (Paper Pool 30) is a brilliant iteration of the artist’s beloved series - the Paper Pools of 1978. Inspired by his friend Kenneth Tyler’s swimming pool in Westchester County, New York, this dazzling series reprises one of Hockney’s most iconic motifs. In the Paper Pools, Hockney recorded the effects of sunlight as it reflected upon the water of Tyler’s pool at various time of the day, creating a series of unique works on paper, in which dye-infused paper pulp was pressed into stunning, color-soaked sheets. Piscine de Medianoche (Paper Pool 30) belongs to a particular subset of Paper Pools, in its ravishing depiction of a swimming pool after dark. Never before had Hockney's treatment of the ephemeral qualities of light on water met such a perfect marriage as in the Paper Pools, with the midnight swimming pools a particularly ravishing group. Taken from the vantage point of the diving board after nightfall, the intensity of the saturated colors and their midnight setting in Piscine de Medianoche (Paper Pool 30) is the perfect platform, allowing Hockney to wax poetic upon the qualities that linger just beneath the surface of the iconic swimming pools, with longing and desire at their forefront. Epitomizing the era of unabashed optimism in which they were created, Hockney’s swimming pools captured and distilled the particular essence of Southern California in the mid-1960s, and in the Paper Pools, they remain an enduring celebration of the artist’s highly-coveted and deeply personal theme.
Stretching across six panels, Hockney’s modernist precision is matched only by his flair for color in Piscine de Medianoche (Paper Pool 30), as softly radiant passages of turquoise and aquamarine encircle and envelop the viewer, giving the impression of a nighttime pool lit by an underwater light. The effect of the saturated bands of alternating color - extending outward in concentric rings from cool, crystalline waters to a shadowy marine blue - is altogether painterly, as Hockney’s innovative technique allows the intermingling of colors at an almost microscopic level. Set against a darkened backdrop of rich, inky blacks, the cooled tones of the swimming pool underlit by submerged electric light 'pops' out from the surface, lending a striking degree of depth and verisimilitude to this decidedly flattened, abstract depiction. Tiny pinpoints of bright white peek through the paper pulp, giving off the effect of sparkling light as it glistens across the surface of softly-dappled water. Bathed in the particular 'aura' the work emanates, one becomes acutely aware of standing before an empty swimming pool after nightfall, with the cool breeze of the evening air lending a sensuous quality to the otherwise pristine body of water.
Serendipity and chance intervened in the late summer of 1978, as David Hockney found himself temporarily stranded in New York in what had been a return trip to California from London. Having misplaced his driver’s license, Hockney was forced to stay on for several weeks in New York, and decided to call upon his friend, the master printmaker Kenneth Tyler, at his home in Bedford Village. Tyler introduced Hockney to a new technique for unique paper works that involved wet paper pulp that he impregnated with rich, saturated colored dye. This innovative new method had already produced spectacular results when Tyler tried the approach with Ellsworth Kelly and Kenneth Noland. It involved the pouring of liquid color pulp into moulds placed directly onto a wet paper surface. Onto this surface, more colored pulp and liquid dyes could be applied freehand, and the result was then pressed between felts in a high-pressure hydraulic press. Once dry, the color had permeated the paper surface, giving it an intensity of hue that is inseparable from the sheet itself.
Using a variety of tools, Hockney applied the colored paper pulp into cloisonné-type molds. Soup ladles, turkey basters, spoons and brushes allowed the artist to create the specific look he desired, and he particularly enjoyed the wet, messy process, which he felt was naturally suited to the liquid nature of the swimming pools. Spurred on by Tyler’s excitement for the new medium and the physicality of the process, Hockney became energized, working for forty-five days straight as late summer gradually turned to fall. As the project progressed, Hockney carefully recorded the effects of sunlight, shadow and other ephemeral effects of weather as they impacted the pool with his Polaroid camera. One evening, after a particularly productive day, Hockney was struck by the appearance of the swimming pool after dark, particularly when Tyler activated its underwater lights. “The light from within the pool stops at the surface of the water and everything above it is black,” Hockney described. “The diving board becomes black… And I thought that was very exciting, and I said, that’s what we will do tomorrow.” (David Hockney, quoted in Nikos Stangos, Ed., David Hockney: Paper Pools, New York, 1980, p. 48)
In Piscine de Medianoche (Paper Pool 30), Hockney employs the darkened diving board as a compositional device, drawing the eye upwards into the central action of the luminous swimming pool. One of approximately five unique works that feature the pool after dark, Piscine de Medianoche (Paper Pool 30) is a brilliant orchestration, in which the effects of light-dappled water set amidst a midnight scene break free from their representational role to become independent entities, their luxurious color harmonies on par with the best of the Color Field painters. The soft and subtle variations that Morris Louis and Helen Frankenthaler teased out from the thinned-down paint as it soaked and stained their raw, unprimed canvases is certainly evoked in the present work, as the individual colors sing and glow, especially when in concert together. In the present work, Hockney wields an impressive degree of control, as he allows the colors to seamlessly blend and pool into each other, compounded by the sheer scale of the six-panel work, which stretches over seven feet in width. Not unlike Mark Rothko’s saturated pillars of pure color, Hockney envelops his viewer in a painterly embrace, though its mood leans less toward Rothko’s sober pillars of color and more toward the splendor of Henri Matisse, as beautifully exemplified in Matisse's late composition, Polynesia, the Sky, which features discrete passages of varied blue grounding a harmoniously choreographed dance of birds.
“Every time you look at a pool, it is a different blue,” Hockney said while in conversation with the critic Jan Butterfield in 1979. “And each time you see it, it takes on a different character.” (David Hockney, quoted in Jan Butterfield, “David Hockney: Blue Hedonistic Pools,” The Print Collector’s Newsletter, Vol. 10, no. 3, July-August 1979, p 74) Indeed, Hockney’s swimming pools proved to be an endlessly versatile motif, and their depiction in the Paper Pools came at a seminal moment in the artist’s career. In Piscine de Medianoche (Paper Pool 30), Hockney continues on many of the themes espoused by his greatest paintings, especially A Bigger Splash, since the empty diving board implies a human presence through its very absence. In the Paper Pools, Hockney’s radical new medium (that he emphatically declared was not a print), the paper pulp method reinvigorated the iconic motif in a new and exciting way. “The sheer bravura of David Hockney’s Paper Pools delights. … They are joyous in color and shape and monumental in scale. Enchanted with the elusive properties of light, Hockney has seized aspects of it, rippling it across and through his works with broad, fearless strokes. Whether in inky darkness or glimmering sunlight, his Pools refresh, please, [and] recall the joyousness of Matisse.” (Jan Butterfield, Ibid., p. 74)
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