Painted in 1965, White Building and Clouds was produced during Hockney's second prolonged visit to the West Coast, where the young painter had been lured by the promise of sunshine, sensuality and a relaxed lifestyle only the year before. This starkly-rendered image forms part of a series of paintings from the mid-1960s dedicated to the portrayal of skyscrapers isolated against a vast Californian sky. Hockney felt free to invent the city, using its iconic architecture and dreamlike atmosphere as fodder for his work.
Hockney's experience of this stimulating new environment enticed him to work directly from reality and to adapt his observations of L.A.'s sprawling cityscape into the realm of art and style. Much like the celebrated Savings and Loan Building of 1967, (Smithsonian, Washington D.C.) this earlier painting highlights Hockney's fascination for the urban landscape of his newly adopted home. His playful exploration of the formal ideas of modernism and abstraction dominant at the time are also at play. He later wrote, "It was in 1965 I painted probably some of the most abstract pictures I'd done, influenced, I think, by American abstraction, what they call cool abstraction. But of course what made it very different was that I was using abstraction as my subject, commenting on it - I felt the need to use it as a subject." (D. Hockney, quoted in N. Stangos, ed., Pictures by David Hockney, London, 1976, p.13).
Hockney wished to emphasis the flatness of the picture plane and he avoids the illusion of three dimensions while simultaneously embracing representation. In White Building and Clouds, the impression of depth is negated. Colors remain uniform and do not suggest recession, whilst the centralized, rectangular façade of the building echoes the confines of the picture itself. Yet this rigid geometry contrasts with the organic forms of the clouds and palm trees. This technique not only bring the composition back from the realm of pure abstraction but also accurately reflects the spare beauty of a landscape that would come to define Hockney's new and unique vision of southern California.