- David Hockney
- Green Tide
- signed, titled and dated 1989 on the reverse
- oil on canvas, in two parts
- each: 61 by 91.4cm.; 24 by 36in.
- overall: 61 by 182.8cm.; 24 by 72in.
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1990
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Completed in deep greens, purples, and turquoises, this work was created at Hockney’s studio just outside Los Angeles: “At one side of my house in Malibu is the Pacific Coast Highway; at the other is the beach. I step out of my kitchen door and there, right there, is the sea. So when I am painting in my studio I am very aware of nature, in its infinity, and of the sea endlessly moving” (David Hockney quoted in: Nikos Stangos, Ed., David Hockney: That’s The Way I See It, London 1993, p. 196). That sense of infinite oceanic motion is abundant here. Indeed it charges the work with a playful contrast: the transient wave, instantly forgotten and immediately replaced, is here reproduced in studied permanence.
Green Tide is a landmark within Hockney’s Californian output. It is prefigured by A Bigger Splash, 1967, now in the Tate Britain, which was created during the artist’s first stint in sunny California while he was still entirely enamoured by the glamour of the Los Angeles swimming pool. Both pieces immortalise the fleeting crash of water, suspending its movement in oil paint and aptly evincing Hockney’s unparalleled expertise in figurative representation. However, Green Tide also looks forward. In its natural focus, it surely prefigures Hockney’s resolute turn to natural landscape in the 1990s; the bright colours and climactic mood on display foreshadow works like Mountain Waves, 1990, and even the Grand Canyon series of 1998 and his later painterly odes to the rolling Yorkshire hills. Above all, this work conveys a strong sense of Hockney’s creative compulsion to convey his distinctive vision of the world in a manner that identifies it with the very best of his artistic output.
Perspective and recession are conspicuously absent in this work. The intimate seascape is depicted flat against the picture plane in frieze-like layers that directly recall Hockney’s work in stage-set design. The composition is almost organised into a foreground-middleground-background construct, in that it is split into three distinct strata. We might even read the beach as a stage, with the foaming white sea as its players. The steep green wave then forms the static elements of the set itself, proudly mounted with curling translucent crests, and arranged in a shallow theatrical semi-circle. At the back, the sharply pointed swells of indigo and turquoise approximate a hanging curtained backdrop, regular enough in their swooping peaks to appear almost patterned.
This overt lack of perspective was also a technique Hockney used to imbue his work with a greater degree of phenomenological truth. In flattening his representation, he assumed that the viewer was not located in front of the picture, but within it – that their point of view was not behind his own, but in front. Furthermore, the artist’s work in photography in the mid-1980s helped him to realise that stereoscopic human vision does not formulate a landscape image in the same way a camera does. His subsequent use of “non-perspective” space was an attempt to imbue his works with sensorial veracity: “I realised that this sort of picture came closer to how we actually see, which is to say, not all-at-once but rather in discrete, separate glimpses which we then build up into our continuous experience of the world” (David Hockney quoted in: Lawrence Weschler, Cameraworks: David Hockney, New York 1984, p. 11). In the creation of this work, Hockney was not interested in a pseudo-scientific recreation of a specific seascape, but rather in conveying his own specific impression of that view from his studio door, with which he was so familiar.
This work also belies a sort of Impressionistic debt in its similarities to the work of the movement’s pioneer Vincent Van Gogh. We might particularly observe the sublime variance in texture; the marked difference between the high green wave, almost combed down in dramatic individual pulls, and the soupy curls of opaque white foam that dance across the foreground in spits and twirling bursts. The background crests are the most obviously Van Gogh, executed with broad visible brushstrokes and almost approximating the Dutch artist’s fields of swaying wheat in their pointed graphic crests.
Green Tide is a transcendent work: compelling evidence for the way in which Hockney called upon lessons learnt in photography and stage design in order to achieve his artistic goals. It is an overwhelmingly truthful painting – impressionistic not just in its bravura oil technique, but in its unabashed depiction of the artist’s experience.