“Well California did affect me very strongly. When I first went there—I went at the end of 1963—I went there with the intention of staying for six months to paint there, I didn’t know a soul there. Somehow I instinctively knew that I was going to like it. As I flew owner San Bernardino and looking down and saw the swimming pools and the houses and everything and the sun, I was more thrilled than I’ve ever been arriving at any other city, including New York, and when I was there those first six months 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. It took me a couple of years to do it much more realistically.”
Imbued with the bright glow of California sunshine, Pool and Pink Pole perfectly embodies the emotive depth and peerless formal execution of David Hockney’s oeuvre. This exquisite painting is truly an exceptional example of the rich color palette, complex compositional structure and intimately significant subject matter that characterizes the artist’s most iconic paintings. The mélange of cobalt blues, rose pinks and forest greens testifies to the glorious oasis that Los Angeles represented to an artist born and bred in the harsh north of England. Hockney explains: “Whenever I left England, colors got stronger in the pictures. California always affected me with color. Because of the light you see more color, people wear more colorful clothes, you notice it, it doesn’t look garish: there is more color in life here” (David Hockney, That’s the Way I See It, London 1993, p. 47). A wholly revolutionary representation of perspectival space that beckons the viewer into intimate acquaintance with the artist’s personal habitat, Pool and Pink Pole is a masterful example of the poignancy and bold compositional progress that defines Hockney’s radical works of the 1980s.
After leaving his home in England in 1978 in search of new inspiration, Hockney ultimately settled in Los Angeles. The blue porch of his abode, which envelopes the scene rendered in the present work, is one of the most iconic motifs within the artist’s visual lexicon: a subject that the artist has returned to and reworked repeatedly. Hockney’s characteristic tendency to rework and exhaust a subject can be traced to this exact view, as the instigator for this habit. Not only constrained to painting, the consummate artist would also work with Polaroids in his investigation of this vantage point and its planes of saturated color.
In Pool and Pink Pole, lines intersect the canvas at dramatically divergent angles; charismatic fields of colors collide and various compositional elements oscillate between the background and the foreground, conveying a prismatic sense of movement, much like Cézanne’s famed depictions of Mont Sainte Victoire or Pablo Picasso's revolutionary Cubist explorations of space. The pink pole in particular, central to the canvas, simultaneously divides and unites the canvas through its spatial ambiguity. The sweeping porch and corresponding awning act as a framing device, thereby placing the viewer in Hockney’s perspective. In so doing, there is not only a provocation for the audience’s emotional and visual association with the work, but one also becomes immersed in the artist’s explorative process. Pool and Pink Pole demands that the viewer experience it not as a static object, but rather as an active entity in a constant state of dynamism. Hockney wanted to “create a painting where the viewer’s eye could be made to move in a certain way, stop in certain places, move on, and in doing so, reconstruct the space across time for itself” (Lawrence Weschler, “A Visit with David Hockney,” in Exh. Cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, David Hockney, 1988, p. 93).
As a master of both color and space, Hockney’s artistic lineage can be traced to the pioneering, turn-of the-century Fauvist movement, spearheaded by Henri Matisse. Painting with vivid brushstrokes and vibrant, raw colors that evoke paintings such as Matisse’s Interior with Egyptian Curtain (1948). Hockney’s superb understanding of color becomes clear. Both artists flattened space into numerous discrete planes, heightening the immediacy of the viewing experience. In Interior with Egyptian Curtain (1948), Matisse depicts the exterior world from the vantage point of a window but blurs this divide by having hints of blue and green paint penetrate the interior plane. Similarly, the landscape itself in Hockney’s work is eliminated by the lack of tonal and perspectival recession employed by the artist.
Hockney himself attributes many of his artistic developments to the environment in which he lived and worked. “The winding road along which Hockney drove every day from his house in the Hollywood Hills to his studio on Santa Monica Boulevard came to symbolize for him his new experience of the city, and his now-elevated vantage point from the hilly heights rather than from the flat terrain that he had known during earlier sojourns. The pictorial shorthand that he devised for that heart-stopping experience of driving up and down Nichols Canyon was to prove decisive in shaping his notion of traveling through a landscape, and of reconstructing it through a succession of signposts lodged in the mind, that again became a vital constituent of his landscapes when he first painted Yorkshire in 1997” (Marco Livingstone, “The Road Less Traveled,” in Exh. Cat., London, Royal Academy of Arts (and traveling), David Hockney: A Bigger Picture, 2012, p. 34). As Hockney was being reinvigorated by his fresh surroundings, he in turn breathed new life into the once stagnant, historic tradition of landscape painting. It is this continual evolution of his practice throughout his almost sixty -year long career that has led Hockney to be universally celebrated as one of Britain’s greatest living artists, further affirmed by his comprehensive career retrospective at the Tate Britain, London in May 2017 and, subsequently, at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Hockney’s innovative painterly techniques in Pool and Pink Pole come to focus in a landscape that was instrumental to revitalizing Hockney’s career; as such, this work forms the crux of a seminal moment for the octogenarian Brit.
Initial observation may lend to the assumption that Hockney used his unique painterly techniques to forge an intensely colored and stylized scene in the manner of his Post-Impressionist predecessors. In fact, Hockney’s rendering of his home is remarkably accurate. He designed his Los Angeles home much in the same way that he composes his paintings: “What I am doing, slowly, is making my own environment—room by room—as artists do. Of course it's fun” (David Hockney in Constance Glenn, Artist David Hockney’s House on the West Coast, Architectural Digest, 1 April 1983). Hockney painstakingly and methodically composed an ideal environment for his artistic endeavors; then, in his painting process, he deconstructs the figuration and reassembles it with his unmistakable style. This enables a play with the viewer’s sensory perceptions: we instinctually grasp for what is familiar and recognizable, yet the abstraction and vibrant blocks of colors alter our pictorial expectations. The patterning of the surface of the pool, which could be perceived as representing ripples on water, is actually present in the stylistic design on the floor of the artist’s swimming pool, which he painted himself just two years before the execution of the present work. Pool and Pink Pole both embodies his famed stylistic characteristics, as well as gives viewers a glimpse into Hockney's intimate environment.
Straddling the line between an acute awareness of the art historical innovations of modern masters, such as Matisse and Cézanne, and a deep appreciation for his contemporary surroundings, Hockney fuses myriad references into an entirely new artistic practice. In the present work, we find the full exertion of Hockney’s quintessential playfulness and liberated gusto, revealing how the artist clearly delights in the spirited rendering of his familiar surroundings. As such, Pool and Pink Pole receives due placement as a pivotal work within Hockney's oeuvre.