Peter Getting Out of Nick's Pool
In the sharp light of the Californian midday sun, in a moment of serene, easy contentment, Hockney imagines watching his young lover Peter Schlesinger about to leave a friend's pool. Hockney had been teaching in Los Angeles for two years when he made this painting in 1966. Peter was one of Hockney's students, the living embodiment of his Californian fantasy. The bold, bright colours are acrylics - their even smoothness contrasting with the hectic textures of Hockney's earlier oils. Their flatness, together with the painting's square format and frame-like border, remind us that this is just a painting, an illusion. These are also features of the Polaroid photos Hockney had just started taking. He used one of those in this painting. It's reproduced next to it. Hockney's interest in photography coincided with his first attempt at depicting the specific details of a particular place, the camera helping him find the precision he wanted. Although he concentrated on THE defining characteristic of Los Angeles - its backyard swimming-pools - the horizontals and verticals of its architecture also had an impact. They in turn stimulated his curiosity about the use of traditional perspective in painting to suggest depth. In this painting, despite the flatness, there's a sense of space - reinforced with shadows. The horizontals and verticals here are perfectly balanced, contributing to the stillness. There's a balance too of contrasting textures - bushy and spiky greenery, soft and hard chairs, curtain-folds behind glass, flesh against concrete. Hockney borrowed the stylized diagonal lines for the glass from comic-books, and the squiggly figure-of-eights on the water from the conventions of abstract art. But both are somehow convincing. He'd become fascinated by the challenge of depicting the transparency, artificial colour and constant movement of swimming-pool water, commenting - 'If the water surface is almost still and there's strong sun, then dancing lines with the colours of the spectrum appear everywhere. If the pool hasn't been used for a few minutes and there's no breeze, the look is of a single gradation of colour, following the incline of the floor...' But the heart of the painting, in every sense, is Peter himself, his rounded buttocks - slightly exaggerated perhaps in response to the bulging chassis of the car - very real amongst all the straight lines. Summoning all the picture-making devices he has at his disposal to bring his subject into crystal-clear focus, Hockney directs our gaze, in the direction of his own, to the source of his contentment - communicating his pleasure at being in his dream place with his dream lover. With this painting Hockney won Liverpool's John Moores Painting Prize in 1967.