'The paper is very beautiful, the surface, there is no such thing as a flat colour, 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, quoted in N. Stangos (ed.), David Hockney: Paper Pools, New York 1980, p.100).
'I kept looking at the swimming pool; and it’s a wonderful subject, water, the light on the water. And this process with paper pulp demanded a lot of water; you have to wear boots and rubber aprons. I thought, really [what] I should do [is], find a watery subject for this process, and here it is; here, this pool, every time that you look at the surface, you look through it, you look under it’
(D. Hockney, quoted in N. Stangos (ed.), David Hockney: Paper Pools, New York 1980, p. 21).
Gregory in the Pool (Paper Pool 4), 1978, is the fourth in a series of Paper Pools which saw David Hockney launch a full scale investigation into one of his most iconic subjects. One of twenty unique variations – another is held in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra – it depicts Hockney’s then assistant and companion, Gregory Evans leaning on the edge of a swimming pool, rendered in a sun-kissed palette of dappled aquamarine and lemon yellow, with shadows of mauve and saturated orange. A testament to the influence of Hockney’s flattened perspectives and washed-out Pop colours, the work was featured in a scene of Paul Schrader’s iconic 1980 movie, American Gigolo. Inspired by the glistening swimming pool belonging to his old friend and graphic designer, Kenneth Tyler, whom Hockney knew from his time in California, the artist spent days captivated by the endless variations of shadows, ripples and reflections in his friend’s swimming pool when visiting his studio in upstate New York. The works are rendered from pulped paper hand-made by the artist, a medium whose tactile, absorbent quality acted as a foil for the poolside waterscapes he sought to capture. Enchanted by this new medium Hockney was intimately engaged in the process from conception to creation, growing ever more ambitious with each successive attempt. Gregory in the Pool (Paper Pool 4) was the first of Hockney’s Paper Pools to incorporate a figure. He recalls, ‘Soon I didn’t like doing everything without figures, and I added Gregory in the pool, whose figure was the ground paper itself. I drew the figure out very simply, then I made the mould, and used two pink colours which I put together and then I kneaded them with my fingers which I thought was nice because it’s nice to do that to flesh. It was a good contrast to the effect of water and the effect of shadow’ (D. Hockney, quoted in N. Stangos (ed.), David Hockney: Paper Pools, New York 1980, p. 36).
The artist’s fascination with the shimmering, amorphous quality of water can be seen in his art since at least 1964 when he first moved to California. The light infused, turquoise colouring of the water, combined with the warm lemon and peach tones of the pool’s edge in Gregory in the Pool (Paper Pool 4) recall works from Hockney’s celebrated California Dreaming series, including the sunbathed scenes such as A Bigger Splash of 1967 (Tate, London). The warm light of the work anticipates the cloudless blue skies and strong sunlight that characterise these later Californian scenes. Distinguished by strong shadow, the light in the present work pours in from the left hand side of the composition, casting dark shadows in inky blue and orange over the stone floor at the side of the pool, and in deep mauve over Gregory’s serene form. The distressed edges of the natural paper fibres lend a dynamism to the scene, as if the water is lapping at the border and moving beyond it. Hockney especially captures an impression of calm relaxation in the stillness of the white inflected water that lies still, reflecting Gregory’s nonchalant pose.
The paper pulping technique fused paper-making and painting in a way that Hockney felt allowed him to capture the essence of the image without the detail. As the artist explains, ‘painting in England before, I kept saying I thought the paintings were getting too gray, too tight and I kept getting finicky and I wanted to be bolder; I figured it was harder to be bolder and these works now allowed me to be bolder’ (D. Hockney, quoted in N. Stangos (ed.), David Hockney: Paper Pools, New York 1980, p. 100). Hockney studied Tyler’s pool in New York at different times of day and night through Polaroid shots and subsequent drawings in order to muse on the many different light and colour changes that the pool underwent. From these drawings, Hockney created cloisonné-like moulds, pouring liquid coloured pulp directly over flat sheets of wet, newly made paper. The artist then put the finishing touches on the work by directly applying coloured pulp and liquid dyes freehand. In this new medium, Hockney utilised copious amounts of water in his paradoxical quest to capture in a still image the constant rippling on the pool’s surface. As the artist noted in his essay on the series, ‘I kept looking at the swimming pool; and it’s a wonderful subject, water, the light on the water. And this process with paper pulp demanded a lot of water; you have to wear boots and rubber aprons. I thought, really [what] I should do [is], find a watery subject for this process, and here it is; here, this pool, every time that you look at the surface, you look through it, you look under it’ (D. Hockney, quoted in N. Stangos (ed.), David Hockney: Paper Pools, New York 1980, p. 21).