Surprise! Near the end of his career, Lichtenstein turned his dots to breathtaking use in a series inspired by works from the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Several are on display now at the Art Institute of Chicago as part of a sweeping retrospective.
He abandons his traditional primary colors in favor of a sky blue palette. Transforms his flat graphic style to meditate on depth, distance and the illusion of spaciousness. Eternity floating before our eyes.
Stripped down, the tight pixel pattern harmonizes with the spare eastern aesthetic. The graduated dots, fifteen different sizes, create scale and distance. With the tiny orange philosopher as the only figure to give us a non-dot reference.
Clouds, mountains and plunging gorges implied with staccato points. Forces your eye to connect them, read in between them. Merge the black space; eliminate the white space. Feel the tension between form and formlessness.
I enjoy the knurling tree, floating rootless, just as much as the orange seed speck of a philosopher. I wonder if together we contemplate his smallness and impermanence in the face of epic mother nature. Maybe that craggy mountain holds both our fates.
I used up this body
for one who does not come
A deep valley, now,
what once was my heart
Izumi Shikibu (974-1034)
It seemed the plum trees
were already in bloom
but when I picked a branch
what fell – so much like flowers –
Izumi Shikibu (974-1034)
California Dreamin.’ No people here, though. Only smooth linearity and cool contrasts. If it weren’t for the live-edge, vivid color I’d turn away from these surgical lines. But there’s a mystery here so I’ll bite.
Sink down, down through the linear elements. The flat turquoise sky, faintly lined. The terracotta boxed house. The tan expanse of pool deck. The aquamarine pool. All stack on top of each other, neat blocks with no beginning or end. The right and left sides of the canvas push out infinite edges. Lest all this eternity disturb us, Hockney adds two vertical palms with quirky feathered tops. Rests our eyes. Another bristled stretch of grass to soften the lines. I notice the director’s chair, a silent judge sitting. A clue.
Everything static still. Listen to the heavy heat breathing and the cicadas’ distant chatter. A yellow diving board slices diagonally through the water and something careens off, diving or cannonballing. A big, big splash. A very large person or a not-person?
Watch the scale of the splash. It’s quite high, as high as the house or higher even. It appears larger because it’s closer to us and the house smaller because it’s farther away. But Hockney is playing with perspective. He intentionally flattened it out with the linear elements, but now baits our depth perception with this gigantic splash.
The chair is sooo small, so far away. The splash, tsumnamic in proportion. Is the splash so close to us? Then pool and deck must be very long indeed. Yet they appear too thin in terms of width and we don’t seem close enough to the splash to get soaked. Terrible Hockney to tease us so.
I’m working up a sweat; my toes curl around the pool’s edge. I’m gonna make a wave myself. Geronimo!
Sleek caps, bathing suits that suit to a tee. Gives me pause, tells me to cast a wary eye. Vibrating-colored gals ready to splash, but smiles have evaporated (except Miss Peach Fest Queen, 1989). Why? The dissonance is killing me. Here’s a 20 second soap for each pair.
Red swimsuit– athlete. Good too. Placed in last year’s local Danskin triathalon. Her friend, Green, clasps anxious hands. Red talked her into doing this year’s race and she’s afraid she’s not up to snuff. (But it’s on her bucket list) Worried Red won’t win because she’ll slow her down. A forever slow poke.
Leave it to grinning Ms Peachy Queen 1989 to strike a nail-perfect pose, as average mom Jan looks away. How can she compete? A scoreboard ticky-tack tallies in both of their heads. Jan’s kids are smarter; husband drinks less. Peachy Queen’s girls have more tiaras; her husband’s a golf pro. Both uncertain winners in an unquiet friendship, silently nitpicking. Always game on.
Mean girl in red hat does not like what she is seeing. At all. Hayley, that slut, sitting on her soon-to-be ex’s lap. Blue holds her by the shoulders, pulling her back. Warns her to not do something she’ll regret. But she’s going to tell them off come hell or high water. What’s a little mosquito like regret to stand in the way of her lips ablaze?
Mother and daughter. Sadness stares out from the black suit. Seems she faces something unfaceable. Her daughter embraces her, an attempt to protect her from the whittling tides of illness and grief. She looks away, her eyes out searching — over the water for hope’s little horizon.
Oh Claude, you old wizard!
With deft alchemy you have melted the trodden path into water.
And made the pool sprout golden leaves.
Brushed into silence, my paddling tongue.
Look dear, the dog’s name is Bonnard. What a darling puppy! Is it a poodle?
(If paintings could speak. . .)
No, no that’s the artist’s name. French, impressionist, part of the Nabis group. . .
And don’t you love her gingham dress. What a cheery polka dot scarf.
Yes the dress is interesting for its sheer flatness, the way it starts a dialog of pattern that circles around the painting. . .
And her sister’s curly hair. Lord, I’ve spent hours ironing my sister’s kinky hair to get it straight. Back before they had flat irons that is. We actually used an iron.
Mmmhmm. See how her curly hair pulls out the whorl of the dog’s coat, similar colors even, and then talks to the shaggy flowers and rattan chair at the left. Yellow playing at the perimeter of the painting.
And the men, just setting there like bumps on a log, watching while the women help the poor puppy, probably has something in its paw. Well, that’s just like a man.
Wait… the contrast of yellows on blue, the patterns and the shifting perspective, the delightful textures, the floating narrative. . .
Maybe I can buy a card for my niece for her birthday, do you think they have this puppy on a card? She loves dogs.
Probably in the gift shop, next to the needless mousepads.
Oh Patty, just look over there, at that wretched yellow Gauguin! It is Gauguin isn’t ? I so dislike him.
I like the dog too. Probably a terrier. . .