Studio Marconi, Milan
Private Collection, Italy (acquired from the above in 1966)
Studio Marconi, Milan
Private Collection, Brescia (acquired from the above in 1976)
Sale: Sotheby's, London, Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 12 October 2007, Lot 30
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
"Water or glass is not quite describable and I like the idea of glass. There's a line of that mystical poet, George Herbert: 'A man may look on glass, on it may stay his eye or if he pleases through it pass, and there the heaven espy'. It's a nice idea, that you can decide where your eye is going to rest. With a wall, it's definitely fixed, and it stops. And I think it's that kind of thing that interested me. Swimming pools I've always liked as things. I like swimming in blue swimming pools in sunny Hollywood...And really the paintings about water are about movement aren't they?"
The artist interviewed by Mark Glazebrook in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, The Whitechapel Art Gallery, David Hockney: Paintings, prints and drawings 1960-1970, 1970, p. 13
David Hockney's Swimming Pool of 1965 is one of the earliest paintings to depict the most famous and iconic subject of this seminal artist's canon. It concisely typifies Hockney's ambition to infuse his pictures with the hedonistic limitlessness of his newly adored California. Having graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1962, Hockney travelled to New York in late 1963 and from there went to Los Angeles, his first visit to the West Coast. He had long dreamt of this promised land of golden sun and saturated colour during his subjugated tutelage under the grey skies of 1940s and '50s Bradford and London. The vision of his dreams did not disappoint: "Somehow I instinctively knew I was going to like it. And as I flew over San Bernadino and looked down - and saw the swimming pools and the houses and everything and the sun, I was more thrilled than I've ever been...I thought it was really terrific, I really enjoyed it and physically the place did have an effect on me. For the first time I began to paint the physical look of the place" ('David Hockney: An Interview', in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, The Whitechapel Art Gallery, David Hockney, Paintings, prints and drawings 1960-1970, 1970, p. 11).
Hockney aimed to fix on canvas the temporal and spatial fabric of California - both illusory and authentic - that so completely captivated him from 1964 onwards. The clarity of the light and landscape inspired his eye as the "California Dreaming" lifestyle embodied a wild escape from England. Everything he had yearned for materialised: a land of possibility, sun-drenched houses, deep-blue pools, palm trees and beautiful bodies. Cleansing the air of the previous decade which had seen Abstract Expressionism gradually suffocating under its own earnestness, David Hockney's Splash paintings saw him tackling the age old problem of how to create an illusion of light, space and volume with unprecedented vitality, sensuality and innovation. Water's mercurial nature, constantly shifting and transparent to light, yet undeniably substantial, was also a metaphor for the Californian aura and its perpetual tension between reality and the delights of the imagination.
The formal arrangement of the geometric, simplified landscape and use of bold opaque colour represents a highly individualised aesthetic that combines concerns of Pop, Modernist Abstraction and Minimalism. The hyper-stylized, autograph patterning of the swimming pool water, the absolute flatness of the green grass, and the scumbled brushwork of the figure's back all resonate in a symphony of technical contrast. The four tones of the pool water evoke the simplified colour schemes of mass printing, and are consequently reminiscent of contemporaneous works by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein where colour is boldly segregated in imitation of comic graphics and advertising. The harsh divisions of Hockney's composition reduce space and depth into diagrammatic compartments and invite comparison with a reductive Modernist Abstraction related to the geometric landscapes of Giorgio de Chirico and Fernand Leger. Additionally, the severe opacity of the building's two defining shapes beyond the pool echoes the strict geometries and industrial materials of a distilled Minimalist standard.
Hockney's execution of Swimming Pool anticipated The Little Splash and The Splash, both of 1966, and arguably what remains his most iconic painting, A Bigger Splash (1967). Swimming Pool is central to the artist's long fascination with this subject of domestic luxury. At the same time, the isolated figure alone in the deserted landscape, a scene replete with solitude, triggers strong analogy with the young Hockney in his barren Californian utopia: the lone visitor to an alien world. Marco Livingstone has noted: "there is something jarring about the apparent depopulation of Los Angeles... Unconsciously, perhaps, a sense of isolation emerges, not so much the sombre melancholia of Giorgio de Chirico's metaphysical paintings as a feeling of aloneness as indiced by Edward Hopper's pictures of deserted American city streets" (Marco Livingstone, David Hockney, London 1981, p. 108).
The seeming insouciance and conscious naivety of execution here is underwritten by Hockney's skill as a draughtsman and his remarkable facility in making paint do precisely what he wants. Hockney playfully explores and intellectually scrutinises the formal issues of contemporary painting with unprecedented invention and confidence, which accounts for his reputation as one of the most influential and individual painters alive today.
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