“I will tell you something wonderful. In 1970 when I had a big show, somebody wrote, ‘Hockney paints Hollywood swimming pools because they are simply another version of the Mediterranean.’ I never thought of that before, but the Mediterranean is a blue hedonistic pool in a Matisse sense. In California it is the swimming pool, and not the ocean, that is the hedonistic pool. And my pools are that. Blue hedonistic pools.”
Pool on a Cloudy Day with Rain (Paper Pool 22) is an outstanding iteration of David Hockney’s widely celebrated series, the Paper Pools of 1978. Imbued with the artist’s exquisite rendering of the transient, luminescent and vacillating qualities of light and water, the present work marks a significant shift within Hockney’s oeuvre. Inspired by his friend, artist Kenneth Tyler’s swimming pool in suburban New York, the Paper Pools series is comprised of a limited number of vibrant, unique works that marry Hockney’s most enduring and acclaimed motif with an entirely new artistic technique involving wet paper pulp and vivid coloured dye. Of this series, the present work belongs to a smaller and highly coveted subset of large-scale Paper Pools.
Between August and October 1978 Hockney recorded the impression of sunlight reflecting upon the water of Tyler’s pool amidst various weather conditions and at different times of day. Saturated hues of celestial blue, lavender and forest green pervade the surface of the present work, the overall tonality suggesting brooding clouds on a stormy summer day. Pool on a Cloudy Day with Rain (Paper Pool 22) is a dazzling testament to Hockney’s virtuosity in the medium of colour and form, and his unwavering receptivity to new stimuli: “The sheer bravura of David Hockney’s Paper Pools delights… They are joyous in colour 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” (J. Butterfield, 'David Hockney: Blue Hedonistic Pools,' The Print Collector's Newsletter, Vol. 10, No. 3, July – August 1979, p. 74).
Sheer chance led Hockney to create the Paper Pools, and indeed to one of the most remarkable periods of experimentation of his career. Before returning to California in the summer of 1978, Hockney misplaced his driver’s license and was forced to stay in Westchester County, New York, for several weeks instead of what was initially intended to be a brief stopover. While stranded in New York, Hockney stayed with Tyler who introduced him to a ground-breaking technique. When asked how exactly the Paper Pools came about, Hockney claimed, “I didn’t intend for it to, actually… I arrived in New York on my way to California, and an old friend of mine, Ken Tyler, got in touch with me…. He started showing me some things he had been working with that had been made with paper pulp, that were done with Ellsworth Kelly and Kenneth Noland, and they were stunningly beautiful. They look so good physically that I really responded to them… well, the upshot of it was that he convinced me to stay three days, to give it a try, and in the end we found out that we had worked 45 days running with only one day off – it was that exciting, really. I think the way he got me interested in the beginning was through the process. I must confess that I love a new medium – especially if there is something about it I have never used before… I began to see there were real possibilities” (D. Hockney cited in: Ibid., p. 74). The beguiling, tactile quality of strikingly coloured liquid paper pulp resonated with Hockney, who employed this technique across the works in this series, all based on the glimmering pool at Tyler’s picturesque Bedford Village home.
This methodical process of image-making, which so fascinated Hockney, began with paper pulp that had been run through a machine and soaked in water. The pulp was then pressed into a thin mould made of wire, which was in turn dropped into a vat. When removed from the vat, the water would run through the wire leaving a thin layer of pulp on the surface of the mould. At this stage, Hockney would add vibrant dyes to the paper pulp, before drying the sheet between felts in a hydraulic press. Hockney explains, “The point of all this, really… is that you can put dyes and various things in the paper pulp… and the colour that you have made on the paper is much more vivid than paint on a surface…. The process seems to demand that you be very bold with it” (D. Hockney cited in: Ibid., p. 74). Hockney’s Paper Pools thus signify a major shift in his artistic process, in which paper trumps canvas in its compelling ability to absorb rich, saturated colour. Furthermore, the series demonstrates a playful self-referentiality due to the considerable amounts of water involved in the creative process: “In some of these pieces, [Hockney] was so concerned to emphasize the inherent wetness of water in a swimming pool (rather than, say, its transparency) that he used over a thousand gallons; ‘in a watercolor you only use a cupful,’ [Hockney] wryly remarked” (U. Luckhardt and P. Melia, Eds., David Hockney, 2011, p. 130).
Hockney’s consistent return to the theme of water and swimming pools is anchored to the artist’s beguilement with the innately American connotations of Hollywood, wealth and suburbia of the 1950s and 1960s. Upon arriving in the West Coast of America for the first time in 1964, Hockney was struck by the sheer ubiquity of swimming pools. The iconography of the pool introduced leisure, sensuality and optimism to his work, themes that were largely absent prior to leaving Britain.The swimming pools of Los Angeles presented a fresh challenge to Hockney in the early 1960s; that of depicting an object which is at once unfixed and entirely transparent to the eye. The medium of paper pulp and dye thus provided Hockey with unlimited potential for innovation, and the ability to capture the qualities of water and light always in flux. Hockney asserts, “I kept looking at the swimming pool. You know, it is a wonderful subject – water, and light on the water. Also, this process of making paper demands a lot of water… every time you look at a pool, it is a different blue, and each time you see it, it takes on a different character. You look at the surface, you look below it, you look through it; every day it looks different” (D. Hockney cited in: Op. cit.).
Hockney’s fascination with perception and the interplay of light recalls those artists before him who were similarly preoccupied with changeable atmospheric conditions. Claude Monet’s ethereal treatment of sparkling light on the surface of the Seine in works such as Branch of the Seine near Giverny (1897) or Georges Pierre Seurat’s post-Impressionist seascapes such as The Channel of Gravelines, Petit Fort Philippe (1890) come to mind. Yet Hockney also draws upon twentieth century modernist influences, most importantly the dynamic cut-outs of Henri Matisse. Writer and critic Matthew Sperling asserts of Hockney’s Paper Pools, “The resulting images are not works on paper so much as works in which form and texture adhere in the paper itself, with line and colour completely integrated in a manner that recalls the paper cut-outs of Matisse (who had made his own remarkable contribution to the genre of the pool picture in his 1952 cut-out, The Swimming Pool)” (M. Sperling, ‘The Pull of Hockney’s Pool Paintings’, Apollo Magazine, February 2017, online). The spectacular hues of aquamarine and sapphire on the flat picture plane of Matisse’s The Swimming Pool (right side) present a compelling parallel to the multifarious shades of blue throughout the Paper Pools series, the present work and Matisse’s cut outs both employing the medium of paper to exquisite effect.
Pool on a Cloudy Day with Rain (Paper Pool 22) is a pivotal extension of the acclaimed swimming pool imagery of the 1960s for which Hockney is so beloved. Here, channeled through a wholly new form of expression by means of paper pulp and dye, Hockney powerfully juxtaposes abstraction and representation, and the invariably different influences of the East Coast and West Coast. Of his deep, lush pools, Hockney summarises “I will tell you something wonderful. In 1970 when I had a big show, somebody wrote, ‘Hockney paints Hollywood swimming pools because they are simply another version of the Mediterranean.’ I never thought of that before, but the Mediterranean is a blue hedonistic pool in a Matisse sense. In California it is the swimming pool, and not the ocean, that is the hedonistic pool. And my pools are that. Blue hedonistic pools” (D. Hockney cited in: Op. cit.).