New York

David Hockney

Andre Emmerich Gallery

David Hockney’s “Paper Pools” continue a theme that has been at the center of his work for a long time—the swimming pool, or its rippling, glistening water. The pools convey the luxuriance, sensuality and mystery that Hockney’s work generally exudes, and they also stand metaphorically as a way in which people construct their own paradise. In Hockney’s pools, people float between something primal and something extremely civilized. Some say that his pools are explicit sexual symbols as well, but I am not sure what this means; it seems to me to trivialize the pools by defining them too closely.

The paper pools involve materials unusual for Hockney. Each picture is composed of a number of standard-size watercolor sheets, which are painted individually but placed to abut each other. Six, nine or twelve panels will make up each large painting, each panel peeling slightly away from its neighbor at their border. The color is soaked in, as with color-field paintings, so that all the objects in each picture are mildly blurred. There is a kind of tension between the consequent watery quality of Hockney’s color and the dryness of the paper from which the pictures are made. Though they feel wet because they have been saturated with color, one does not forget the paper has dried. Thus the realism of the sensation the pictures present competes with the fact of their mechanics.

There is a reference to color-field painting in Hockney’s imagery here as well as in his means. Each of the current pools is delineated very simply, consisting of just a few planes of color. They do not pretend to be abstract, but for realistic pictures, they lean quite distinctly in that direction. I am not sure that this is more than superficially important, though. The best and strongest thing about the “Paper Pools” is their richness of sensation. Because they tend toward abstraction, they are extremely atmospheric. It takes some time to recognize that each picture represents a certain time of day, and that in one picture with black and blue trees in the background and a bright pool, it is nighttime and we are looking at the pool’s underwater lights. Most of the paintings show the same pool, but in varying light and weather.

The best single picture in the show shows a man diving into the water and leaving behind a splash that looks exactly like one of the sunbursts in Matisse’s cutouts. The picture is beautiful, playful and filled with allusion, but like everything else in this show it looks easy for Hockney. Hockney is an accomplished artist but here he falls back on what he can do best—and also most easily. The sense of pure luxury which his work conveys by its own, actual indulgence in realistic seeing, or in very fine and precious materials (in the new pools, in saturated, atmospheric color) is somehow gratuitous here. Hockney has discovered nothing new in the “Paper Pools,” which may be even more seductive than usual because of this very ease. To his admirers this will be entirely excusable; it will probably annoy skeptics.

Leo Rubinfien