'Lithographic Water Made of Lines’ by David Hockney (1937)

'Lithographic Water Made of Lines’ by David Hockney (1937)

“Water, the idea of drawing water, is always appealing to me. If it’s clear water anyway, transparent water. You can look on it, through it, into it, see it as volume, see it as surface…”


Not all well-known artworks picturing swimming pools are by the hand of David Hockney, but most are. Swimming pools have since long been Hockney’s famous motif and when asked why, Hockney always comes up with the same story of his first visit to California in 1963 and how he became instantly mesmerized by the countless bright, blinking blue swimming pools that were open all-year round. The contrast with the United Kingdom, his cold and grey homeland, could not have been bigger.


‘As we flew in over Los Angeles I looked down to see blue swimming pools all over, and I realised that a swimming pool in England would have been a luxury, whereas here they are not, because of the climate.’ The pool symbolizes not only the huge difference between Great Britain and California as far as the weather climate is concerned, but also reflects the deep contrast between these countries’ sociological climate. Whereas in Britain only the very wealthy could afford a swimming pool on their property, in California having a pool near your home was quite common and a middle-class entitlement.


For most UK people, and this goes especially for working class Northerners like Hockney, a pool experience would likely have taken place in a municipal public bath and probably only once or twice a year, if ever. Los Angeles in 1963, with its new architecture, freeways and its liberal views on sexuality must for Hockney have been like entering paradise. After his definitive move to his ‘dreamland’ in 1964, Hockney starts to paint pools, trying to catch the glinting water surface in which the reflection of the bright Californian light, almost teasingly, keeps changing colour, from a happy aquamarine blue to a mysterious green-grey hue.


In 1978 master printer Kenneth Tyler of Tyler Graphics Ltd (TGL) encourages Hockney to paint on handmade paper. At first, Hockney paints flowers, but gradually his all-time favourite “pool theme” takes the overhand. Or, in his own words: ‘I had become more interested in the more general problem of painting the water, finding a way to do it. It is an interesting formal problem, really, apart from its subject matter; it is a formal problem to represent water, to describe water, because it can be anything – it can be any colour, it’s movable, it has no set visual description.”


Within this experiment, Hockney moves on from painting to producing series of lithographs of pools. The series ‘Lithographic Water Made of Lines’ consists of eleven editions of lithographic prints of the same scene created between 1978 and 1980. Each print in the series has the same matrix of a regular shaped landscape and a swimming pool with a diving board over the deep end. Yet with each new print, Hockney demonstrates the sheer infinite possibilities of the use of line, colour and tone, giving the same scene slightly different effects.


All this not only to make you realize the fascinating possibilities of the use of a certain medium, but moreover to make you stand back and admire the brilliant way in which Hockney manages to capture the capricious and ever-changing elements of water and light.


When looking at the current lot, lithograph ‘Lithographic Water Made of Lines’ (lot 44), the work appears almost like a technical drawing on graph paper. A white diving board stretches over the water from the left, casting a dark shadow over the wall and bottom of the pool, adding another regular shape to the scene. In this particular print the movement of the water suggested by the many squiggly lines, like tiny water snakes, seems to be created by a tiny breeze. A breeze, a quiet blue hour, no one around: this pool is begging you to jump in.


This lot is included in the Post-War & Contemporary Art auction on October 19th.

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