Who doesn't like pop art? You don't have to get it, it's just fun and bright and colourful - or it can be. But if you want to understand what's really behind Warhol's famous soup cans and Lichtenstein's cartoon vignette parodies, the latest film in the #Unlock art series will help you along. Pop Art fan Alan Cumming (what a perfect match!) takes us on a wild ride through the major figures and works and explains what it all means in this vivid and entertaining film.
Listen near the end of the film for one of Andy Warhol's best quotes. It's priceless.
David Hockney (I. LOVE. HIM.) and one of the typical California scenes of the 1960s that inspired some of his greatest works. I love the line delivered by Alan Cumming in the pool "It's much sunnier in LA than it is in Bradford." (Hockney is from Bradford which is not known for bright and cheery landscapes.)
Thanks to another fantastic tour courtesy of art historian Linda Bolton, I finally got to see Hockney's A Bigger Splash at Tate Britain. I had no idea it was so big, and I love that its sunny cheer is so imposing on the wall. I don't usually like the idea of poster prints of masterworks but this one is framed in my kitchen because its presence just makes me so happy - it reminds me of the midcentury ranch houses I loved so much in a part of the city I lived near growing up in Canada - and I learned that the little errant splotches that extend outside of the image are not the result of a bad print run, they're there because they're present in the original painting because, according to Linda, Hockney didn't want us to forget it's a painting. (Was he worried we might try to dive into the pool?) Another thing I learned - I had no idea this is would be considered Pop Art. Makes sense now that I think about it, but I guess in my mind it existed on its own plane because of what it meant to me personally. Its impact has not diminished after all of these years.
This is what Linda told us about David Hockney and the painting:
- America was the land of the modern, a country which celebrated the new. British pop artist David Hockney headed there. He painted the American dream; the Hollywood homes with palm-fringed gardens and pools below clear blue skies.
- His ‘A Bigger Splash’ shows with clarity an empty pool into which someone has dived. The painting is as big and uncomplicated as Pop Art. The painting has a very specific look – with everything very in its place and square with aspects such as the director’s chair suggesting power and wealth. The palm trees, pool and colour gives the impression of sun and warmth, yet the content and overall feel of the painting can be interpreted as sad and empty.
- Different techniques are used in the painting – for example the pool, sky, building and palm trees are simple and minimal – almost painted with structure (you can see the effects of masking tape edges used to create this look). The ‘splash’ gives the impression of a person (with subtle skin colour tones) and here he has used a different techniques to portray the splash effect.
- The painting could almost be a print – however subtle hints at the creation process are included, such as paint drop marks and imperfections."
David Hockney. A Bigger Splash, 1967
We also got to see Hockney's Mr. and Mrs. Clark and Percy which was so compelling; it seemed to reveal the tumultuous state of Celia Birtwell and Ossie Clark's relationship at the time, through the way they held their bodies and of course their facial expressions, which Hockney translated with near heartbreaking effect. (Their cat Percy didn't seem too bothered.) The greens in the large painting were beautiful, as was the contrast of Celia's aubergine dress:
And here's what Linda told us about this painting:
- London's Notting Hill is the location of the home of the very stylish couple Mr & Mrs Ossie Clark, painted with their cat Percy by Hockney in 1971. Ossie Clark was a dress designer in London's Swinging '60s.
- 'King of the Kings Road' was his nickname, and he was the creator of a highly flamboyant fashion range. His wife Celia Birtwell was a fabric designer, and she created the prints for Ossie's dresses. Hockney had become friends with Ossie and Celia at art school in Manchester in the late 1950s. Hockney and Ossie had travelled to New York in the early '60s, enthusiastic for all they saw there. Hockney worked from photographs. His painting of his friends is large and simplified. Unusually for a painting of a married couple, he has created an open space between them.
- The painting could suggest a divide between the couple, with the window and shutters beyond separating the pair, whom it could be argued look rather disgruntled and uninterested. The painting went straight to the Tate in 1971 and Mrs Clark left Mr Clark three years later, which led to Ossie’s downward spiral which he didn’t really recover from. It was implied that she was not content with the rock-star, superficial lifestyle led by her husband. As with ‘A Bigger Splash’ there are drips and suggestions of the creative work which went into the piece.
As part of our Pop Art day we got to try our hand at a creation of our own, in this gorgeous room hidden away downstairs at Le Meridien Piccadilly. We were guided by Paint Jam London, an innovative art company based on London who run inspiring art workshops and events, show art works, feature artists and sell art and prints. It's a lot of fun and you may be surprised what hidden creativity they can unleash within you!
There is nothing more daunting than a blank canvas! Luckily we were first guided through exercises to get us into the creative process, using various media such as pastels, paints, charcoal and palette knives (I opted to use one instead of a brush for texture).
Everyone got into the spirit of the day, and knowing myself very well, I did not attempt to think of an original idea in the time we had, so I used the Lichtenstein example in front of me (why I drew in charcoal when I knew I'd be painting it I have no idea - charcoal is incredibly smudgy) and tailored the word bubble to reflect the film series (using Photoshop at home!):
Afterward we were treated to another scrumptious feast at the hotel's Terrace Grill & Bar Restaurant, beginning with a warm glass of mulled wine - made with gin which made it very Le Meridien Piccadilly - and was so delicious I know I will never be able to enjoy mulled wine again, unless they've served it to me. The mulled wine featured again in the starter, curing the salmon which was served with cinnamon cream cheese and spiced oranges, followed by corn-fed chicken breast, potato rosti, fricasee of brussel sprouts, chestnuts and lardons. Yes, it was just as good as it sounds.
The room was gorgeously festive:
We popped open special Christmas crackers which had yummy truffles inside with a lovely message:
Our dessert was first revealed with a cheeky prank, chef Michael Dutnall presenting a charred Christmas pudding apologetically. We knew something must be up because for one, he wouldn't burn the dessert in the first place; and second, he would certainly not show it to us! We waited excitedly and then he turned around and lifted this big, red foil box to reveal:
A wonderland of pastries, gingerbread and other sweets surrounding a special croquembouche which looked like a Christmas tree. This was what I had on my plate, and we got to take some treats home which were very well received!
Thank you to Le Meridien for another wonderful adventure!
Unlock Art is an exciting series of short films offering an imaginative, witty, and enriching introduction to the world of art. Created by Tate in partnership with Le Méridien, Unlock Art features eight short films that put art under the spotlight, with topics ranging from the history of the nude to humour, Performance to Pop Art, presenting all the need-to-know facts. Bold in approach and rich in content, the film series was conceived to make the arts more accessible to a wider audience.