The still, calm atmosphere of a Los Angeles backyard, replete with swimming pool and handsome bathers -- this is where David Hockney dwells. He's inhabited other domains too, of course, but not for as long as he's sat poolside and studied... [more]
The still, calm atmosphere of a Los Angeles backyard, replete with swimming pool and handsome bathers -- this is where David Hockney dwells. He's inhabited other domains too, of course, but not for as long as he's sat poolside and studied the movements of the water, the lambent play of light on its surface, and the sadness of its depths. A longtime resident of L.A., Hockney knows this scene very, very well. His paintings express the time he's spent in it, the serenity of so many tranquil afternoons in the warm, thick L.A. air.
Beneath the light and color of Hockney's L.A., there's a feeling of emptiness, a subtle, tacit despair, even a tension. Hockney's poolside scenes seem almost too composed, too still and quiet, too reserved, in fact, to express nothing more than their surface suggests. Loneliness and melancholy speak from these canvases, but they speak, as it were, from their depths -- from the bottom of the pool, or behind the seemingly impenetrable walls of Hockney's house. Like Mod architecture, Hockney's paintings suggest a disorienting hollowness behind their clean, bright surfaces.
Sometimes the surface is shattered by a swimmer diving into the pool, as in one of Hockney's most famous paintings, "A Bigger Splash" (1967). Hockney paints only the plume of white water against the blue of the pool -- no trace of the swimmer remains. The splash seems to unleash the tension that lurks in his other canvases, shedding retrospective light on them, as if each were concealing such an imminent explosion.
It is from this latent tension that Hockney creates his humor. Like the delivery of a deadpan line, the force of Hockney's commentary comes across through the suppression of that very force. The more the tension is pushed below the surface, the more the surface trembles. You find yourself shaking with laughter, without being able to point out what, exactly, is funny. Hockney's wit is synonymous with his capacity to conceal; his humor is a function of the unpainted that lingers within what he paints: you get the sense that he is not, in fact, trying to be funny.
Hockney has also worked extensively with photography: he's created a series of exquisite Cubist collages out of snapshot-style photos. But Hockney's Cubism, unlike Picasso's, is only mildly abstract. He reveals the seams between different perspectives, while still organizing these perspectives into an integral whole. Nevertheless, the tension expressed in his canvases reemerges here: it is as if the coherent surface is on the brink of shattering. The edges between the photographs are like fault lines, trembling with internal tension. It is this play between tranquility and intensity -- and between surface and depth -- that Hockney has mastered: his humor, his wit, and his seriousness articulate themselves simultaneously in everything he creates. [show less]