This drawing is a study for one of David Hockney’s most iconic paintings, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)....
Completed in 1972 following the devastating end of a five year relationship with his first-love Peter Schlesinger, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) shows a fully dressed Schlesinger standing at the edge of the pool gazing at a submerged figure swimming underwater. Originally derived from the accidental juxtaposition of two photographs on his studio floor, the work reveals the parallel intimacy and distance between the couple. This preparatory study is a riveting artefact of the artist’s working process – giving an intimate insight into the creation of an irrefutable masterwork. Each perfectly placed pencil stroke reveals the artists hand, how he was experimenting and what he was concentrating on. There is a delicate balance and haunting juxtaposition between the joy of the swimmer gliding forward – with his arms stretched forwards in anticipation yet entrapped by the weight of the water – and the imposing dominance of the clothed figure standing sentinel. On closer inspection, there is a slight alteration in the position of the vulnerable swimmer from this work to the final version, the sketch portraying a greater ambiguity where the pose can be interpreted as either optimistic or struggling.
Hockney had begun the painting in October 1971, as documented in great detail in Jack Hazan’s semi-fictional documentary A Bigger Splash. It is likely that Hockney made this fresh and vivid drawing on a visit to Le Nid du Duc in early April 1972, sketching only a harsh outline for the standing figure as Schlesinger was not available to pose. Le Nid du Duc was director Tony Richardson’s house in the South of France, a bolthole for London artists who were free to indulge themselves in a utopian lifestyle that almost approached the blissful domesticity that Hockney had fallen for in Los Angeles.
The ripples and flickers of the water demonstrate one of Hockney’s primary concerns in his swimming pool pictures, as he stated that part of his interest lay in the fact that ‘it is a formal problem to represent water, to describe water, because it can be anything. It can be any color and it has no set visual description.’