Dominated by a churning, fragmentary mass of tanned, female, exposed flesh, Beach House is a picture that plays extensively with notions of display and sensuality. Painted in 2003, Beach House forms a part of the Popeye series in which Koons continued exploring the collage techniques that he had begun to employ in his childhood-themed Easyfun pictures and to which he had added a liberal sprinkling of adult sexuality in the Easyfun-Ethereal works. This is a secular altarpiece to contemporary living: Popeye, the cartoon hero whose legacy was addressed by Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol alike, is a substitute saviour who, despite his absence from this composition, nonetheless oversees all that occurs in the series that bears his name. A character who transformed into a hero by eating a can of spinach, Popeye is the perfect hero for our times, an optimistic and near omnipotent everyman. Here, he is guiding us through the a world of sensuality embodied in the teasing glimpses of flesh and provocative clothing scattered throughout the composition--for instance, in the laced green outfit in the middle, the blue-clad breasts in the top and the hand tucked under a body in the background.
This combination of décollage and décolletée creates a heady, intoxicating vision that speaks of sensory overload. These undulating flesh is contrasted with the rigidity of a brick wall to the left, shown pipes and electrical wiring on the outside of a building, and the wood panelling to the right. That crisp white painted wall, with the wicker chairs and the inflatable toy which peeks through the sensual maelstrom of bikinis, hint at the 'beach house' of the title, at the contemporary luxury of a holiday home, invoking the aspirational, can-do credos of capitalism. And the presence of the inflatable, a staple theme in Koons' work since his first official series in 1979 that again appeared in his Equilibrium and Celebration series, hints at the artist's own role as guide and crucial supporter. Several times, he has explained that pool toys often have a warning declaring that they are not life-saving devices, yet through his use of them in his sculptures and pictures, they become precisely that: routes to potential salvation.
In Beach House, Koons has collided imagery from a range of sources and worlds, creating an ecstatic, pulsing vision of contemporary life. While Popeye, the figure who gave the series its name, may not be overtly present, his influence is nonetheless felt, both in the deliberate shamelessness of the content -- 'I am what I am' -- and in the versatile, connoisseurship of contemporary life. It is telling that Koons explained to Arthur C. Danto that, for him, the title implied 'an eye for Pop' (J. Koons, quoted in A.C. Danto, 'A New World for Popeye: Jeff Koons' "Popeye Suite"', in J. Peyton-Jones, H.-U. Obrist & K. Rattee (ed.), Jeff Koons: Popeye Series, exh. cat., London, 2009, p. 31). Here, Pop is present in the flesh, reminiscent of James Rosenquist's sensuous paintings, and the cartoons decorating the swimming pool toy.
The Pop artists often took swipes at the legacy of the Abstract Expressionists, the esteemed giants of post-war art in New York. In Beach House, that legacy appears to continue in the form of the yellow marks that criss-cross the canvas in a seemingly random pattern, adding a zingy dynamism and evoking the 'drip' paintings of Jackson Pollock. These apparently spontaneous, almost ejaculatory jets of yellow paint have in fact, like the rest of the composition, been meticulously rendered in Koons' studio according to a design created using computer technology. In this way, the improvisation and machismo of the Action Painters have been assimilated into a hyper-figurative, hyperreal vision designed in advance on computer to create the kaleidoscopic interweaving layers of imagery, with elements repeated or omitted according to the artist's intentions.
Koons has used an array of found elements and objects as his subject matter, be it in the form of ads, photos or other elements. Looking at the inflatable rubber ring that appears to the right, it becomes apparent that this is the same one that appears in cast aluminum in his sculpture from the same series, Dipstick. There, the ring is shown at one end of a steel pole suspended on a stand, seemingly balancing another inflatable toy. These inflatables were essentially readymades: they were cast in aluminum from beach toys that Koons himself acquired, such as the dolphin and lobster from the same series, which were then painted in order to be indistinguishable from their original. In this way, the Popeye imagery bleeds from medium to medium across the series.
In Beach House and the other pictures from the series, Koons often includes details such as walls and fences that give a sense of enclosure, yet the near-sculptural forms of the fragments of female bodies and the inflatable ring itself give a sense of this passage, echoing the Caterpillar Ladder, for example, where a toy has become intrinsically enmeshed in the substance of the ladder through which it appears to be passing, an infectious grin still intact on its face. In Beach House, that ability to remain immaculate and content is reflected in the cartoonish figures shown on the ring, whose childish stylings are in stark contrast to the glamour photography of so much of the rest of the imagery. The fact that the ring has been shown next to ladder-back chairs--which are featured in some of the other Popeye sculptures--means that there is both a sense of passage and indeed of ascent, tying into the concept of the picture as an image of sensuous salvation.