A Bigger Splash
1967

Infatuated with L.A.

At the start of the year, Hockney and Peter Schlesinger are living together on Pico in Los Angeles. For the spring term Hockney teaches at University of California, Berkeley, [NESTED]weekending in L.A. He continues to be mesmerized, as his work attests, by that city’s swimming pools and other glistening surfaces. A Bigger Splash and A Lawn Being Sprinkled demonstrate Hockney’s mounting facility and imaginative edge in painting water’s liquid, transparent, and reflective properties, as revealed in its interaction with light.

During the day Peter was out at school, and I painted, and in the evenings we’d go out and eat something. I don’t think I ever cooked there at all. We used to go to the cinema a lot, then go back and read, just sit in bed and read. Because there was no phone, life was quiet and I think that year I painted more pictures than I’d ever done before .… We saw Nick Wilder a lot, and Nick’s friends, who were always rather young and beautiful boys. We’d go swimming at Nick’s …. I saw a lot of Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy …. Looking back on it, it was certainly the happiest year I spent in California, and it was the worst place we lived in.

During the day Peter was out at school, and I painted, and in the evenings we’d go out and eat something. I don’t think I ever cooked there at all. We used to go to the cinema a lot, then go back and read, just sit in bed and read. Because there was no phone, life was quiet and I think that year I painted more pictures than I’d ever done before .… We saw Nick Wilder a lot, and Nick’s friends, who were always rather young and beautiful boys. We’d go swimming at Nick’s …. I saw a lot of Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy …. Looking back on it, it was certainly the happiest year I spent in California, and it was the worst place we lived in.

A Lawn Being Sprinkled, 1967
Lawn Sprinkler Study
Lawn Sprays
Peter Getting Out of Nick's Pool, 1966

A Bigger Splash

It takes me two weeks to paint this event that lasts for two seconds. The effect of it as it got bigger was more stunning—everybody knows a splash can’t be frozen in time, it doesn’t exist, so when you see it like that in a painting it’s even more striking than in a photograph, because you know a photograph took a second to take, or less. In fact if it’s a splash and there’s no blur in it, you know it took a sixtieth of a second, less time than the splash existed for. The painting A Bigger Splash took much longer to make than the splash existed for, so it has a very different effect on the viewer.

A Bigger Splash, 1967

The Room, Tarzana

Increasingly, Hockney is preoccupied with that fundamental task of painting—how to represent light, specifically, to naturalistic effect. The Room, Tarzana is based on [NESTED]a department store’s advertisement for bedroom furniture, but Hockney re-envisions the sunlit scene to show Peter Schlesinger lying on his stomach on the neatly made single bed, in T-shirt and socks, his bare buttocks exposed at the painting’s center.

Because of this light dancing around, I realized the light in the room was a subject and for the first time it became an interesting thing for me .… Consequently, I had to arrange Peter so the light was coming from the direction of the window. Before, I wouldn’t have bothered to think of things like that, I’d just have laid him on the table and drawn him, and it wouldn’t have mattered to me whether the shadows went this way or that.

Because of this light dancing around, I realized the light in the room was a subject and for the first time it became an interesting thing for me .… Consequently, I had to arrange Peter so the light was coming from the direction of the window. Before, I wouldn’t have bothered to think of things like that, I’d just have laid him on the table and drawn him, and it wouldn’t have mattered to me whether the shadows went this way or that.

The Room, Tarzana, 1967
Peter
Study for 'The Room, Tarzana'

To me, moving into more naturalism was freedom. I thought, if I want to, I could paint a portrait; this is what I mean by freedom …. I could even paint a little abstract picture. It would all fit into my concept of painting as an art …. To me a lot of painters were trapping themselves; they were picking such a narrow aspect of painting and specializing in it. And it’s a trap. Now there’s nothing wrong with the trap if you have the courage to leave it.

Taking photographs

Back in London as of the summer, Hockney soon departs for France and Italy with Schlesinger and the painter Patrick Procktor, as well as his newly acquired 35mm camera, purchased to facilitate his increased inclination to paint from photographs. He also resolves to henceforth assemble his photographs in albums, where he can easily reference them, rather than having them scattered about in boxes. 

GA 002 p. 50

Back in the U.K.

Hockney uses his own photographs to paint, in naturalistic detail, The Room, Manchester Street, of Procktor standing, delicately backlit, in his studio. Also that autumn, Hockney wins first prize at the John Moores Exhibition, for the painting Peter Getting Out of Nick’s Pool, [NESTED]and visits Cornwall, spending time at the homes of Paul Cornwall-Jones, in St Mawes, and Cecil Beaton, in Castle Combe.

Hockney after winning the John Moores Painting Prize
Hockney after winning the John Moores Painting Prize

In 1967 Patrick’s studio looked clean, neat, and office-like. The next year it looked like a den in the Casbah—it seemed to change as often as Auntie Mame’s. I recorded the changes in photographs, and this painting was made from drawings, life, and photographs.

The Room, Manchester Street, 1967
Squared-up Detail Drawing for 'The Room, Manchester Street'
Study for 'The Room, Manchester Street'
Study for 'The Room, Manchester Street'
Study for 'The Room, Manchester Street'

Exhibitions

Solo

  • New Paintings and Drawings, Landau-Alan Gallery, New York (Mar 14–Apr 8); catalogue.
  • David Hockney, Mala galerija, Ljubljana (Jul); catalogue with a text by Gene Baro.

Group

  • Drawing towards Painting 2, Arts Council of Great Britain Gallery, London (Apr 14–May 20); travels to Stoke-on-Trent, Northhampton, Oldham, Cardiff, St Ives, Reading, Liverpool, Bradford, Norwich, Scarborough, and Glasgow; catalogue.
  • Seventh International Exhibition of Graphic Art, Moderna galerija, Ljubljana (Jun 3–Aug 31); catalogue.
  • 118 Show, Kasmin Limited, London (opens Aug 4).
  • Jeunes peintres anglais, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels (Oct 1–22); catalogue.
  • Pittsburgh International Exhibition of Contemporary Painting and Sculpture, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh (Oct 27, 1967–Jan 7, 1968); catalogue.
  • Recent British Painting: Peter Stuyvesant Foundation Collection, Tate Gallery, London (Nov 15–Dec 22); catalogue.
  • John Moores Exhibition, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (Nov 23, 1967–Jan 21, 1968); catalogue; Hockney wins the First Prize.

Publication

Publication

  • David Hockney, A Rake’s Progress: A Poem in Five Sections, text by Donald Posner, London: Lion and Unicorn Press.