Through the looking glass: David Hockney at the Walker

Mike Pinnington
David Hockney, Liverpool Exhibition, Walker Art Gallery

We look at Hockney’s struggle with sexual identity via just one, seminal work: “Peter Getting Out of Nick’s Pool.”

“What one must remember about some of these pictures is that they were partly propaganda of something that hadn’t been propagandised, especially among students, as a subject: homosexuality…” So said David Hockney, speaking about a time in his life when to act on his proclivities would have been to risk losing his place at art school and most likely seen him imprisoned (not until 1967 would homosexuality be legalised in the UK). Instead, the Bradford-born artist painted himself out of the closet, producing work such as “We Two Boys Together Clinging” and “Portrait of Peter C.”

David Hockney: Early Reflections at Walker Art Gallery charts these chastened early days but also the personal freedom Hockney experienced when spending time on secondment at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1966. The lifestyle and weather of the American West Coast were a stark contrast to Hockney’s upbringing in the perpetually overcast north of England. Suddenly, there were blues everywhere; in the skies, the sea and of course, the swimming pools.

In California, there were blues everywhere; in the skies, the sea and of course, the swimming pools

The impact on Hockney’s work was astonishing. Almost immediately after arriving in California, he produced “Peter Getting Out of Nick’s Pool,” arguably his most iconic work. The pool was that of the gallery owner, Nick Wilder while the naked back and behind belong to 19-year-old Peter Schlesinger, a painter Hockney had met at the university.  The virgin canvas that frames the painting is a nod to the Polaroid he used as a guide to paint Peter.

A testament to the revelatory effects of a change of scene, the piece is also a proclamation of sexual preference and defiance. “Peter Getting Out of Nick’s Pool” evokes the Californian sun, the vogue for crisp, modernist architecture and a decidedly more carefree gay scene than Hockney had ever experienced at home. Alongside 1967’s “A Bigger Splash,” the piece cemented his genius as a painter and would later win the 1967 John Moores Painting Prize. This was no longer propagandism, this was celebration in its purest form.

Culture Guides

Cinema

From politically-minded British cinema, to rebooted classics and an animation extravaganza: there are plenty of festivals, film seasons and new releases for you to enjoy this month.

Visitors view work by Michael Dean in The Hepworth Prize for Sculpture. 26 October 2018 - 20 January 2019. Photo, David Lindsay

Exhibitions

From the dreamy paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites to ‘shonky aesthetics’ and a crisis of visual representation surrounding HIV; this month’s exhibitions highlights are as eclectic as ever.

Families

Luminous adventures, festive fixes, Drag Queen Storytime and New Year’s Eve parties with nippers to book now for … look no further for the best things to do with kids.

Author Luke Kennard.

Literature

Even more spoken word nights are joining the old faithfuls, there’s a whole lot of poetry and prose including a rare chance to catch performers from as far afield as Paris and Texas, and showcases such as Chester Literature Festival, Chorlton Book Festival and Poetry Emergency will add to your wider reading pile.

Music

Spanning electronic, rock, classical and jazz, November holds a wealth of exciting northern gigs and concerts.

Theatre in Manchester and the North

Theatre

Our theatre guide this month features the striking choreography of Matthew Bourne, a theatrical dining experience and our top picks of pantomime fare. There’s plenty to enjoy. Oh yes, there is!

tours and activities guide

Tours and Activities

Indulge in Manchester’s rapidly growing food culture this November with our top picks of edible tours and activities.

Things to do right now

Powered by culturehosts
Cinema 2–23 November 2018, from £5

Peterloo at HOME

Cinema 9–23 November 2018, from £5

Widows at HOME

Activity 16 September–24 November 2018, from £9

The Modern History of the Northern Quarter Tour

Exhibitions 16 June–25 November 2018, from £5.25

Fusion: Adventures in Digital Art at Eureka!

Cinema 16–30 November 2018, from £5

Suspiria at HOME

Chester Literature Festival at Storyhouse
Literature 10 November–1 December 2018, from £10.00

Chester Literature Festival at Storyhouse

The Maids at HOME
Theatre 16 November–1 December 2018, from £10.00

The Maids at HOME

Comedy 21 September–4 December 2018, from £8

Mum’s the Word Comedy Club at The Edge