Jan Butterfield, 'David Hockney: Blue Hedonistic Pools,' The Print Collector's Newsletter, Vol. 10, No. 3, July-August 1979, p. 74.
Imbued with the bright, reflective glow of luminescent light on water, Steps with Shadow is a consummate example of David Hockney’s celebrated series of Paper Pools. Executed in 1978 during a visit to friend and fellow artist Ken Tyler’s home in Bedford Village, New York, the Paper Pools constitute some of the most vibrant and captivating images in Hockney’s oeuvre. Originally intended as a stopover on Hockney’s way to California, his time on the East Coast between August and October 1978 proved to be a particularly fertile creative period for the artist during which time he made the entire series of sixteen Paper Pools; an achievement that shows his unwavering receptivity to new stimuli.
After graduating as a student from the Royal College of Art, London, Hockney left England for the sun-drenched shores of Southern California in January 1964, in search of new inspiration. The milieu of the West Coast was hugely formative for the artist, whose iconic landscapes of the 1960s emerged from the progressive and liberal attitudes he encountered there. His seminal painting A Bigger Splash (1967, Tate Britain, London) was painted during this time, marking what was to become a deep held fascination with the glistening and ethereal surfaces of swimming pools. Extending the ideas acquired from his time in California, the present work contemplates the reflective, rippling, volatile qualities of water. With its distressed edges and cropped viewpoint, Steps with Shadow pulls the viewer directly to the pool’s edge as it invites tranquil introspection.
Signifying a major shift in the artist’s practice, Steps with Shadow was the result of an experimental paper-pulp technique that Hockney learned from Tyler. Hockney created the works in this series by layering individually coloured, hand-made pulped paper, before passing it through a high-pressure hydraulic press. The resulting Paper Pools demonstrate 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” (Ulrich Luckhardt and Paul Melia, Eds., David Hockney, 2011, p. 130).
The controlled yet vibrant palette and elegant simplicity of form employed in works such as the present, position Hockney’s Paper Pools in dialogue with the canon of art history. Hockney studied and documented Tyler’s pool in New York at different times of day through both Polaroid shots and drawings, thereby acquiring a full and intimate understanding of the light and colour changes between dusk and dawn. His methods hence evoke Claude Monet’s eminent Impressionist paintings of cathedrals, waterlilies and haystacks similarly executed under fluctuating atmospheric conditions. The series also shows an affinity with the cut-outs and exuberant colour palette of Henri Matisse. Straddling the line between an acute awareness of the art historical innovations of modern masters and a deep appreciation for his contemporary surroundings, Hockney fuses myriad references into an entirely new artistic practice in Steps with Shadow.
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