A Bigger Splash  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

A Bigger Splash is a large pop art painting by British artist David Hockney. Measuring 242.5 cm by 243.9 cm, it depicts a swimming pool beside a modern house, disturbed by a large splash of water created by an unseen figure who has apparently just jumped in from a diving board. It was painted in California between April and June 1967, when Hockney was teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, United States.


The "A Bigger Splash" picture shows a typical California day – warm and sunny, with a cloudless blue sky. In the background, two palm trees loom over a large single-story house, with flat roof and large sliding glass doors, in front of which an empty director's chair with thin crossed legs stands on a wide pink patio. A shadow under the chair suggests that the sun is high in the sky, around noon. In the foreground, a yellow diving board slants away from lower right corner, leading the viewer's gaze towards the centre of a large swimming pool, where water fountains into the air, capturing the moment just after someone has dived in. The diver is not visible, presumably still under the water. The chair lies further back along the same diagonal line. A thickening in the white line atop the building's flat roof emphasises the place where the diver has entered the water.

Hockney's composition is based on a photograph of a swimming pool in a book and an earlier drawing by Hockney of Californian buildings. It was created with meticulous care, simplifying but enlarging his earlier paintings entitled "A Little Splash" (1966) and "The Splash" (1966) (both are held in private collections; the latter was sold at Sotheby's for £2.6 million in 2006). The canvas – almost a perfect square – is dominated by the strong vertical and horizontal lines of the trees, the building, and the edge of the pool; it is divided evenly into the sky, building and patio in the upper half, and the pool and diving board in the lower half. The rectilinear composition is broken by the oblique thrust of the diving board. The calmness of the overall composition contrasts with the violent explosion of water caused by diver. Hockney has expressed his pleasure at taking two weeks to paint a moment that lasted two seconds.

The painting was made using acrylic Liquitex on a white cotton duck canvas, with no underdrawing. Hockney uses a limited palette – cobalt blue, ultramarine blue, raw sienna, burnt sienna, raw umber, Hooker's green, Naples yellow and titanium white – applied either mixed together or as tints. Apart from the splash, the painting was finished very evenly and flat with a paint roller, in two or three layers, with the few details – tree, grass, chair, reflections – overpainted. The central splash was heavily worked over a period of about two weeks using a variety of small brushes. A wide border and central narrow stripe at the pool's edge are left unpainted. The border creates an effect like a Polaroid photograph. The painting has been viewed as a critical link in Hockney's ruminations on time between his earlier Picture Emphasising Stillness and his later "joiners" portraits, created by collaging many photographs of the same subject taken over a period of hours.

The Marquess of Dufferin and Ava bought the finished work from John Kasmin's gallery in 1968, and sold it to the Tate in 1981.

The painting is currently on loan to the Getty Center, where it is being displayed as part of the "Pacific Standard Time" exhibition.

Cultural reference

Jack Hazan's 1975 film A Bigger Splash, a fictionalised biopic concentrating on the breakup of Hockney's relationship with Peter Schlesinger, was named after the painting.

In The Sopranos first season episode Denial, Anger, Acceptance, Tony's comàre Irina has a copy of A Bigger Splash above her bed. Tony asks what it means to her and she replies "Nothing, it just reminds me of David Hockey [sic]."

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "A Bigger Splash" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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