|Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), 1971, acrylic on canvas, 214 x 305 cm|
The California sun illuminates the swimming pool. An anonymous figure swims beneath the cool water. Peter Schlesinger, fully clothed, stares into the pool.
A 19 year-old art student when Hockney met and fell for him, Schlesinger soon moved in with the artist and became his favourite model, appearing in many of his famous pool scenes. Seen as inherently homoerotic these works were created at a time when such themes were rarely presented in art and almost never so conspicuously. In this work even the detailed landscape behind the figures seems to suggest the phallic.
Shall we then take the swimmer to be Hockney himself? Regardless, the complexity of the at-first-glance 'sterile' work lies in the relationship between the two figures. There is something intense about Schlesinger's stare, hinting at the unsaid. A vast distance seems to exist between these men, even as their intimacy is suggested.
For all the brightness and vibrancy of the L.A. sunshine something darker lurks just beneath the surface. But what a glorious surface it is.