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The Collection of Norman & Lyn Lear

A Lawn Being Sprinkled

A Lawn Being Sprinkled
signed, inscribed, titled and dated '"Lawn being sprinkled" David Hockney Los Angeles 1967' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
60 x 60 in. (152.4 x 152.4 cm.)
Painted in 1967.
Landau-Alan Gallery, New York
Claus Borgeest, Neuenhain, Germany
Galerie Neuendorf, Hamburg
L.A. Louver Gallery, Los Angeles
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1978
David Hockney: Paintings, Prints and Drawings, 1960-1970, exh. cat., London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1970, p. 66, no. 67.2.
N. Stangos, ed., David Hockney by David Hockney, pp. 163 and 301, no. 197 (illustrated).
N. Stangos, ed., Pictures by David Hockney, London, 1979, p. 41 (illustrated).
M. Frank, "Architectural Digest Visits: Norman Lear," Architectural Digest, July 1992, pp. 80-81 (illustrated).
P. Clothier, Modern Masters: David Hockney, New York, 1995, p. 34, no. 33 (illustrated).
P. Melia and U. Luckhardt, David Hockney: Paintings, Munich, 2000, pp. 56 and 82-84, no. 26 (illustrated).
David Hockney Portraits, exh. cat., London, National Portrait Gallery, 2006, p. 238.
P. Melia and U. Luckhardt, David Hockney, Munich, 2007, pp. 56 and 82-84, no. 26 (illustrated).
D. Hockney and H. W. Holzwarth, eds., David Hockney: A Bigger Book, Cologne, 2016, p. 80 (illustrated).
M. Livingstone, David Hockney, London, 2017, pp. 109 and 111, no. 87 (illustrated).
New York, Landau-Alan Gallery, David Hockney, March-April 1967, n.p., no. 10.
Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute, The 1967 Pittsburgh International Exhibition of Contemporary Painting and Sculpture, October 1967-January 1968, n.p., no. 221 (illustrated).
Hanover, Kestner-Gesellschaft, David Hockney, May-June 1970, pp. 34 and 68, no. 42 (illustrated).
Lübeck, Overbeck-Gesellschaft, David Hockney, June-August 1971, n.p., no. 9.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Art in Los Angeles: Seventeen Artists in the Sixties, July-October 1981, pp. 73-74, no. 59 (illustrated).
Los Angeles County Museum of Art; New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art and London, Tate Modern, David Hockney: A Retrospective, February 1988-January 1989, pp. 159 and 253, pl. 38 (illustrated).
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts; Madrid, Fundación Juan March and Barcelona, Palau de la Virreina, David Hockney, June 1992-February 1993, p. 45, no. 11 (illustrated).
London, Tate Britain; Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou and New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, David Hockney, February 2017-February 2018, pp. 68, 76 and 226 (illustrated).

Brought to you by

Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

A centerpiece of Norman and Lyn Lear’s collection for almost half a century, A Lawn Being Sprinkled (1967) is a masterwork dating from one of David Hockney’s most important years. Aglow with the light and color of California, its extraordinary representation of vaporized water forms a thrilling counterpart to the artist’s iconic A Bigger Splash (Tate, London), completed the same year. Hung side by side in Hockney’s major retrospective at Tate Britain, London in 2017, which later travelled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the two paintings represent the culmination of the artist’s formative years in Los Angeles. The city’s bright blue skies, idyllic homes and immaculate gardens had inspired a string of early masterpieces, dramatizing Hockney’s perceptual response to this sun-drenched world. With its staggering, near-abstract surface detail and complex spatial theatre, A Lawn Being Sprinkled is among the most virtuosic of these canvases, alive with the teachings of art history and sparkling with the lessons of his swimming pool paintings.

Hockney had first arrived in Los Angeles in January 1964, aged just twenty six. Growing up in the North of England during the country’s bleak post-war years, he had long dreamt of America’s West Coast. The novels of John Rechy, and the pages of the fitness magazine Physique Pictorial, had fuelled his youthful imagination, painting a vivid picture of a liberated, sun-soaked paradise. Hockney leapt at the chance to visit after a trip to New York in late 1963, and as he flew in over San Bernardino, he recalls being “more thrilled than I’ve ever been arriving at any other city” (D. Hockney, quoted in conversation with M. Glazebrook, David Hockney: Paintings, Prints and Drawings 1960-1970, exh. cat., Whitechapel Gallery, London, 1970, p. 11). Turquoise pools shimmered in the heat; huge new freeways rose up from the ground. Hockney realized that this shining utopia, so full of promise and possibility, had never been depicted in art. “I suddenly thought: ‘My God, this place needs its Piranesi,’” he recalls. “‘Los Angeles could have a Piranesi, so here I am!’” (D. Hockney, quoted in conversation with M. Bragg, The Listener, London, May 22, 1975, p. 673).

Over the next four years, Hockney settled happily into L.A. life. The city quickly surpassed his greatest fantasies, and he became ensconced in a lively creative circle that included the writer Christopher Isherwood, the artist Don Bachardy and the dealer Nick Wilder. By 1966, Hockney had met his first true love: a Californian art student named Peter Schlesinger. That summer, the two moved in together in a tiny house on Pico Boulevard, where they remained for a year. It was, Hockney recalls, “the happiest year I spent in California”: a quiet period of rose-tinted seclusion, in which the artist threw himself into vivid depictions of the people and places around him (D. Hockney, quoted in N. Stangos (ed.), David Hockney by David Hockney, New York, 1976, p. 151). Masterworks such as Sunbather (1966, Museum Ludwig, Cologne), Portrait of Nick Wilder (1966), Beverly Hills Housewife (1966-1967) and The Room, Tarzana (1967) tumbled in quick succession. In 1967, Peter Getting Out of Nick’s Pool (1966) won Hockney first prize at the prestigious John Moores Exhibition in Liverpool, and was subsequently acquired by the city’s Walker Art Gallery. “The paintings of these years were his best to date,” wrote the critic and curator Henry Geldzahler; “… all breathe a clarity of light, perception and realized intention that mark Hockney’s new and greater ambition to paint the world of today dead-on” (H. Geldzahler, quoted ibid., p. 16).

At the center of this body of work were two closely-related trios: three “splash” paintings—A Little Splash, The Splash and A Bigger Splash—and three “sprinkler” paintings—A Neat Lawn, A Lawn Sprinkler (Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo) and the present work. Chris Stephens, curator of Hockney’s 2017 Tate retrospective, wrote that these works represent “the high point” of his attempts to depict water (C. Stephens, David Hockney, exh. cat., Tate Britain, London, 2017, p. 68). Since 1964, Hockney’s pool paintings had grappled with the challenge of capturing its mercurial, translucent properties: “it is a formal problem to represent water, to describe water, because it can be anything,” he explained (D. Hockney, quoted ibid., p. 48). In both the “splashes” and the “sprinklers”, Hockney shifted away from painting shimmering liquid surfaces, instead capturing single moments of eruption and diffusion with almost photographic clarity and bravura. “I loved the idea … of painting like Leonardo, all his studies of water,” he explained. “And I loved the idea of painting this thing that lasts for two seconds” (D. Hockney, quoted in N. Stangos, ibid., p. 126).

Based on a drawing that Hockney made the previous year, A Lawn Being Sprinkled plays eloquently with this sense of compressed time. Comparing the painting directly to A Bigger Splash, the artist’s biographer Marco Livingstone hails his “wit in devising new signs for representing water, the strong sense of design and boldness of color, and the playful way in which an observed scene has been used to construct an almost abstract painting.” It is, however—he writes—“the stillness of [both] images that lingers longest in the mind” (M. Livingstone, David Hockney, London, 2017, p. 109). The work is arrested by a near-Minimalist sense of serial repetition: from the neat rows of roof tiles, to the planar divisions of grass, fence and sky, to the rhythmic wooden slats and the ordered arrangement of the sprinklers themselves. Within this rigorous framework, all sense of movement seems halted: the droplets of water are permanently suspended in mid-air, while the lawn—each blade individually combed—confronts the viewer like television static, its ripples and undulations frozen in an abstract jigsaw. The house, meanwhile, looms like a lonely Edward Hopper mansion, silent, still and quivering with anthropomorphic charge.

These effects are heightened by Hockney’s masterful manipulation of geometric space. On one hand, his work during this period was deeply influenced by artists such as Fra Angelico and Piero della Francesca, whose interrogations of perspective provided him with a vital springboard for his own explorations of human sight and vision. Yet while certain elements of the painting obey these laws—the receding height of the sprinklers, for example, or the shrinking blades of grass—Hockney ultimately disrupts all sense of linear depth. Paul Melia and Ulrich Luckhardt note that “the lawn does not become appreciably lighter in tone as it moves into the middle distance; the lines formed by the tiles on the roof would never converge on a vanishing point; the sprays of water do not possess volume. Our attention thus constantly returns to the literal surface of the canvas” (P. Melia and U. Luckhardt, David Hockney, Munich, 2007, p. 82). Hockney’s plants and palm trees hover like Matisse cut-outs, seemingly out of joint with the rest of the image. The painting remains in a perpetual state of disoriented tension, refusing to resolve.

This optical friction would become central to Hockney’s practice as it evolved over the years, eventually leading him to the realization that we do not perceive the world in single, perfect snapshots but rather through a complex system of simultaneous interlocking viewpoints. Here, this revelation is heightened by the artist’s use of acrylic: a medium that came to define his works of this period. Hockney relished its smooth, flat properties, and its capacity for rich chromatic saturation. “When you use simple and bold colors, acrylic is a fine medium,” he explained; “the colors are very intense and they stay intense, they don’t alter much” (D. Hockney, quoted in N. Stangos, ibid., p. 125). The bright blue sky was likely applied with a roller, while the sprinklers themselves appear to have been masked off and sprayed on. The effect calls to mind Andy Warhol’s silkscreens, whose impenetrable surfaces similarly blurred the boundaries between foreground and background. The legacy of geometric abstraction, too, is palpable: the work’s crisp bands of color invoke the paintings of Frank Stella, Richard Diebenkorn and—as Hockney himself suggested—Robyn Denny.

Hockney’s engagement with the teachings of modernism is also evident in the work’s border, consisting of raw canvas inscribed with a thin red band. This feature, which first appeared in his earliest pool paintings, was originally conceived as a way of “[making] the picture look more like a painting.” This concept, he explained, “was an essential premise in advanced painting at that time … I still consciously wanted to be involved, if only peripherally, with modernism” (D. Hockney, quoted ibid., p. 100). Here, the device deliberately draws attention to the work’s status as a construct, confronting the viewer as a picture within a picture. Hockney had long been fascination by themes of illusion and artifice, often expressed through pictorial references to theatre, staging and formal artistic devices. Over the years he would probe the relationship between reality and representation, ultimately suggesting that painting—once conceived as a window onto the world—was fundamentally a vehicle for understanding the mechanics of perception itself.

Ultimately, then, A Lawn Being Sprinkled sits at a critical juncture in Hockney’s practice. On one hand, it marks the zenith of his halcyon years in California, offering a quintessential image of the neighbourhoods and lifestyle with which he had fallen so deeply in love. On the other hand, it is a technical tour de force, capturing the sophisticated handing of space, perspective and surface detail that would fan the flame of his practice over the coming decades. It is a portrait of LA, but also a portrait of Hockney himself, every inch of its surface dedicated to dissecting the workings of his own vision. It looks back to the lessons of the Italian Renaissance while teetering on the brink of total abstraction. It is perfect marriage of order and chaos, the fleeting, ephemeral formations of the sprinkler frozen in geometric perfection. In the balmy heat, time seems to stand still, framed forever in crystalline splendor.

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