David Hockney: for the love of Peter

Peter Schlesinger, California, circa 1971

David Hockney takes a long time to work on his canvases, such as in this particularly beautiful California scene, “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)” 1972 in which Peter Schlesinger stands at the edge of a pool as John St-Clair swims in it. It was actually painted in his London studio and is a perfect example of his technique of using various photographs, taken indifferently of time or place, then re-organising them, thus creating a masterful manipulation of the eye, and a true reflection of a very personal moment.

Playing with our perception and distorting perspectives has always been a key element of Hockney’s work. We can see that in his very early work, his photography compositions of the ’80’s or his magnificent late large canvases of English landscapes.

Having been in love with the California sun and the boys glowing under it since his childhood, in 1964 as soon as success came about, David left his dreary native England for Los Angeles where he would live, love and work, off and on, for a large part of his life.

David Hockney, “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)” 1972

“Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)” 1972, is a dreamy composition imagined by Hockney. Peter Schlesinger, young Art student at UCLA, then David’s lover, stands above the pool, considering, looking, without looking at another human being gently swimming silently underwater. A sense of foreboding in this idyllic surrounding impregnates the painting: Peter was becoming more distant and moved out while David was working on it. This magnificent canvas filled with yearning reminds us of a short poem by Constantine P. Cavafy, (poems from which David would later make a series of illustrations)

“I was always struck by beauty, moved by it’s perfection,

it was always there, other, and I, here, flawed.”

David Hockney and Peter Schlesinger. Image © David Hockney, used courtesy of Film Movement

Published on ARTWISE.LIVE on February 1, 2016

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