Masterpiece Stories

Painting of the Week: David Hockney, A Bigger Splash

Candy Bedworth 4 August 2019 min Read

David Hockney is one of Britain's most well known and influential artists. His iconic style is instantly recognisable. As you hunch over your work, dreaming of a summer break, let's take a look at his painting A Bigger Splash.

Gaze into the image above. Can't you just hear the sound of that water, cascading back into the pool as the unknown diver breaks the surface? We can't see the swimmer - we've arrived just too late - everything is hidden by the splash and the water is completely opaque.

A Bigger Splash
David Hockney, Peter Getting Out Of Nick's Pool, 1967, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, UK.

Hockney liked to paint images that were pleasing, relaxing. His swimming pool paintings feel like a protected world. The precise lines, the sharply defined colours, and the absence of distracting details, let our eyes rest and our minds daydream. Are we in California? At the home of some famous celebrity, enjoying the sun and the clear blue sky? As the viewer stands before the 8 foot square of A Bigger Splash, they are at the edge of the diving board, being led into a glamorous, fantasy paradise.

David Hockney, Nathan Swimming Los Angeles 11th March 1982, 1982. Private Collection, image Tate, London, UK

Visiting California regularly in the 1960s, Hockney set up permanent home there in 1976, drawn by the climate and the relaxed way of life. In his swimming pool paintings Hockney is capturing a moment in time. That water effect in A Bigger Splash would last just a few seconds. Hockney said that he loved the idea of taking two weeks to paint something that lasted only two seconds.

But has this image become a cliche? The painting A Bigger Splash has been reproduced on trays, tea towels, T-shirts and bags. Is it more like a promotional advert than a work of art? Is this clean, flat world devoid of emotion? That's for you to decide. But isn't it a lovely thing to gaze upon in these hot and stormy days?

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