Using the conceptual presentation of combinatoriality in visual art in “Remix and the Dialogic Engine of Culture” (Irvine), I will take a closer look at two works by David Hockney in the 1960s. Irvine’s discussion focuses on the fact that artists using collage, montage and mass media sources can be understood as “working intuitively and heuristically though the generative, recursive combinatorial rules for the new symbolic systems in art genres to create hybrid forms as nodes in new networks of meaning.” Understanding the references embedded in these artworks (cultural encyclopedia references not always explicitly quoted) is necessary to understanding the individual artworks.
With this understanding of artists’ use of combinatoriality and appropriation, exemplified by the use of image units from multiple sources (mass media and even other artworks) to create new, hybrid art works, I will turn to two Hockney pieces, “A Lawn Being Sprinkled” (1967) and “A Bigger Splash” (1967). While both of these works are acrylic on canvas paintings–not collages with photographs or mixed media like the works of Rauschenberg we’ve looked at, and not explicit appropriation of advertisements or iconic images like the works of Warhol we’ve seen–they nevertheless can be understood as works of ‘pop art.’ Aestheticizing pop culture and commodity objects is one method of creating pop art. Hockney’s works can also be seen commenting on consumer culture by representing a type of lifestyle in his paintings (without explicitly representing people in either of the works examined here).
“A Lawn Being Sprinkled,”Hockney plays with flatness and perspective, and uses vibrant colors (the bright green of the lawn especially stands out), reminiscent of other works of pop art. There are large blocks of color representing elements of the painting–the sky is painted as one block of blue, the structure of the house is also painted in a block-like way. The flatness of the representational elements and lack of texture sets this painting apart from other paintings depicting similar subjects. The subject of the painting, in turn, is significant symbolically. The visual elements of the painting– like the lawn, sprinklers, traditionally structured house, and vegetation–all come together to communicate an image of leisurely living in California. The lush yard, fence and house seem to function as symbols of successful, orderly and quiet domestic life.
“A Bigger Splash” likewise represents peaceful and orderly leisure, depicting a swimming pool in the back yard of a home with a diving board off of which someone has just jumped. Hockney also uses flatness, big swaths of color, and straight rectangular shapes to represent this domestic scene. The blue of the pool and sky are both bright and flat. The diving board, a flat yellow, contrasts sharply with the blues. According to a summary of the painting on the Tate’s website, Hockney’s depiction of the splash was deliberately meant to mimic the way in which a photograph would capture it. Both “A Bigger Splash” and “A Lawn Being Sprinkled” evoke an idea about domesticity and leisure life in an orderly, bright, and visually striking way. Because of the subject matter –pulling no doubt from representations in advertising, mass media and popular culture–and their technical renderings, these Hockney paintings can be understood as pop art paintings.
Irvine, Martin. “Remix and the Dialogic Engine of Culture.”
Kinley, Catherine, and Elizabeth Manchester. “David Hockney: A Bigger Splash 1967.”Tate Artworks. Tate, Mar. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hockney-a-bigger-splash-t03254/text-summary>.