In the summer of 1978, while en route from England to Los Angeles, David Hockney stopped off and visited the upstate New York workshop of Kenneth Tyler, founder of the famous Tyler Graphics studio. During his stay, Tyler introduced Hockney to a new technique using handmade paper, colored with dye and pigmented pulp. Hockney thought the result was “stunningly beautiful,” and set about working on a new series of unique works that would become an important addition to the artist’s oeuvre. Day Pool with Three Blues (Paper Pool 7) is one of these works, a rich and colorful rendition of one of the artist’s iconic swimming pools, paintings which have become some of the most celebrated images of the postwar period. This work, along with others such as A Bigger Splash (Tate Gallery, London) and Peter Getting out of Nick’s Pool (National Museums Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery), is synonymous with Hockney’s distinguished painterly style, and his constant quest to push the boundaries of art. Previously in the personal collection of Kenneth Tyler, who helped Hockney develop the series, Day Pool with Three Blues (Paper Pool 7) is the physical manifestation of this highly creative period when Hockney harnessed his prolific creativity to produce large-scale and striking works that have become some of the most celebrated of his career.
Across conjoined sheets of handmade paper, Hockney composes an image of a swimming pool using different areas of colored paper. By mixing pigment directly into the raw paper pulp and then pressing it into a sheet of paper, Hockney builds up a surface that is rich in both color and texture. In this particular example, the artist uses three different tones of blue to depict the shifting tonality of the water; dark blue depicts the shadows cast by the sides of the pool, a mid-blue conveys the depth of the waters, and finally the dappled blue and white of the surface is portrayed by a variegated mixture of lighter blue and raw paper that occupies the lower register of the painting. This layering of color adds both depth and volume to the depiction of water, turning it from a flat uniform surface into a dynamic and seemingly constantly shifting form. In contrast to the dynamism of the pool, the rest of the paint is bordered by the strict geometry of a path and hedge that hugs the edge of the pool. Rendered in a dusky mauve, the walkway constrains the water, introducing order into the arrangement. Finally, passages of verdant green complete the composition as they indicate hedges and lawns, which act to soften the entire composition.
In addition to the color that emanates from the surface of the work, the structure of the work itself is as important to Hockney’s artistic process as the finished composition. Using a series of photographs that the artist took of the swimming pool on Kenneth Tyler’s property, Hockney would produce metal ‘cookie-cutter’ molds into which he would pour the paper pulp. Then, by adding extra pigment, he would increase the concentration of the color of each section, “You had to put on the color well, very carefully, and I couldn’t rely on someone else doing this… I could be freer…” Hockney said (D. Hockney, quoted by N. Stangos, David Hockney: Paper Pools, New York, 1980, p. 28). As well as color, the areas of raw paper that the artist leaves visible form an important part of the composition. They add depth and definition to the image, mimicking the sunlight dancing on the surface of the water, and offering up important clues as to how the work is made. “The paper is very beautiful, the surface” Hockney adds, “there is no such thing as a flat color, and they are very subtle at times. They are like paintings, which is why I stayed; if they hadn’t been like paintings, I think I would have left after doing the first two or three small ones, I would have thought enough was enough” (D. Hockney, ibid., p.100).
Hockney’s Paper Pool paintings also helped to satisfy the artist’s technical interest in the nature of painting. They are an extension of his now iconic canvases of Californian swimming pools that he began in the 1960s, which—in addition to portraying the hedonistic West Coast lifestyle—also enabled him to investigate how to paint water, a form that is essentially formless and colorless. “Hockney’s fascination,” writes Nikos Stangos, “was in using a watery medium for the representation of a watery subject, bringing together many of the themes he most loves: the paradox of freezing in a still image what is never still, water, the swimming pool, this man-made container of nature, set in nature which it reflects, the play of light in water…” A consummate student of art history, Hockney would also have been fully aware that it was a task that had also occupied the minds of many of his artistic heroes. “The challenge to his imagination and creative ability of mastering a new technique, learning its limitations, accepting these limitations and transcending them is the same as that which has provided the fuel in all new phases of his work,” Stangos continues. “It was perhaps a similar challenge… that led Matisse to his paper cut outs, of which especially relevant here is La Piscine (1952)… and which Hockney must have had in mind when he was making paper pools” (N. Stangos, ibid., p. 5 & p. 6).
Day Pool with Three Blues (Paper Pool 7) was acquired directly from the artist by Kenneth Tyler, the man who played an important role in the creation of the entire Paper Pool series. Tyler was a master printmaker who worked with many artists and transformed printmaking from a relatively simple process into a medium as important and valued as painting or sculpture. With these paintings, Tyler infused his innovative techniques onto Hockney’s bold imagination, resulting in a series of unique works that are some of the most exciting of the artist’s career. “I have never worked with anyone with more energy,” Hockney said. “It was fantastic. He was willing to work any hours. It didn’t matter… Working with someone who has an awful lot of energy is very thrilling. With Kenneth Tyler, nothing was impossible. If I said, could we, he said, yes, yes, it can be done” (D. Hockney, quoted by P. Gilmour, Ken Tyler Master Printer and the American Print Renaissance, New York, 1986, p. 97).
David Hockney’s paintings of swimming pools have become some of the most iconic images of postwar art; works such as A Bigger Splash, 1967 (Tate Gallery, London) and Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) are some of the most loved canvases of his career. Day Pool with Three Blues (Paper Pool 7) takes the level of technical achievement of these paintings and builds on it a step further and in the process, introduces a whole new level of interest to these works. That this particular painting was in the personal collection of the man who helped Hockney achieve these heights makes this work a very personal record of this prolific and inventive period.