Magazine article The Spectator

Exhibitions: David Hockney

Magazine article The Spectator

Exhibitions: David Hockney

Article excerpt

No Californian could have painted Hockney's pools. No La-La Land artist, raised on sun and orange juice, would have done tiles and diving boards and tan-lined bottoms as the boy from Bradford did.

It had to be a Hockney, brought up, the fourth of five children, in a two-up two-down. Hockney, who aged three had sheltered from bombs with his mother Laura, father Kenneth, four siblings and a lady neighbour in the cupboard under the stairs. A Yorkshire child steeped in Typhoo tea and fortified by meat and potatoes from Robert's Pie Shop. A painter who had bicycled the Wolds in the rain, and lived in the garden shed of an Earl's Court boarding house when a student at the Royal College of Art in London.

'I was brought up,' he said, 'in Bradford and Hollywood.' He had seen Los Angeles in Technicolor, brighter than bright, in Singin' in the Rain on trips to the pictures. The first time he saw the city for real, in 1964, aged 26, his first impression was of pool after pool: 'As I flew over San Bernardino and saw the swimming-pools and the houses and everything and the sun, I was more thrilled than I have ever been in arriving in any city.' 'A Bigger Splash' (1967) is no belly flop, but an ecstatic head-first dive into light, sun, pinks, blues, palms, sprinklers, days so hot you might as well never get dressed. At the Royal College he had worn vest, shirt, tie, cardigan. In LA, a man could lie flat-out naked on a white towel on the pool flagstones or on a bed in just T-shirt and socks.

You've seen it before, the splash, in Tate's permanent collection, but here, in the fourth room of the gallery's retrospective, which spans 60 years of work, it comes like a baptism: a washing off of England, where Private Eye in 1963 was running features like 'How To Spot a Possible Homo' and where Hockney had to keep two coal fires burning to get his basement flat warm. 'A Bigger Splash' is a squiggle-wiggle, pool-side, total immersion in beaches, boys and Mulholland Drive.

As a schoolboy, Hockney had gone up to London to see Piero della Francesca's 'The Baptism of Christ' (c.1450) at the National Gallery. It appears in miniature in two of the paintings in the Tate show: pinned to a board behind curator Henry Geldzahler in 'Looking at Pictures on a Screen' (1977), and reflected in the mirror between Laura and Kenneth in 'My Parents' of the same year.

He must also have seen Carlo Crivelli's 'The Annunciation, with Saint Emidius' (1486). His 'California Art Collector' (1964) borrows the Crivelli composition with the collector wearing the Virgin's green, and her covered sculpture pavilion replacing Crivelli's cutaway Renaissance palace. …

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