This painting won the John Moores Liverpool Exhibition 6 (now known as the John Moores Painting Prize) in 1967. It shows the communal swimming pool of an apartment block at 1145 Larrabee Street, Hollywood, just north of Sunset Boulevard. This was the home of one of Hockney’s friends, the art dealer and gallery owner Nick Wilder. Hockney lived there from summer 1966 until early 1967 whilst at the same time renting a decrepit studio in central Los Angeles. Hockney’s boyfriend, Peter Schlesinger, a 19-year old painter whom he had met while teaching, is the naked figure climbing out of the pool.Hockney copied the figure of Peter from a Polaroid photograph that he had taken, showing him leaning naked against the bonnet of a car. The square format of the photograph is deliberately evoked in the shape of the painting. The idea of leaving a border of unprimed, virgin canvas, Hockney said, was “to make the picture look more like a painting”. He wanted to emphasise the process of picture-making and the artifice involved in creating an illusion. Hockney subsequently thought that this wish was a timid accommodation to prevailing fashions amongst avant-garde painters. At this stage though he still wanted, however peripherally, to be involved with formal advances in art.
When Hockney entered the Royal College of Art in 1959, a homosexual act between two men was illegal in the UK. It was not until 1967 that this was partially decriminalised. Against this backdrop, Hockney pursued his personal and artistic identity as a young gay man. He found acceptance and inspiration within London’s homosexual sub-culture and later the more liberating environment he encountered in New York. Alongside his artistic development, Hockney became a pioneer of gay subject matter.
Before he became confident enough to paint figure pictures, Hockney used text, like the grafitti in public toilets. This acted as a code through which his gay identity could be both hidden and – to those in the know – revealed. In later works, Hockney took more risks in expressing his sexuality, featuring more explicit references to gay culture such as a series of prints dedicated to the homosexual Greek poet, Constantine P Cavafy (1863 – 1933). He described his intentions in so frequently depicting gay subject matter as a form of activism through art: “What one must remember about some of these pictures is that they were partly propaganda of something I felt hadn’t been propagandised as a subject: homosexuality.”