David Hockney, Munich Olympic Games (1972)

Hidden Treasures from the Camden Collection

Each month, Love Camden highlights an object from the Camden Art Collection that ties in with the cultural agenda across the borough of Camden. Featuring works by Barry Flanagan, Barbara Hepworth and Lancelot Ribeiro and many more, our Hidden Treasures series aims to provide insight into the history and legacy of some of the collection’s finest works. This month: David Hockney.

Born in 1937, David Hockney is among the most influential names in British painting history. Part of the pop-art movement of the 1960’s, Hockney’s work includes painting, photography, printmaking and set design. His work with swimming pools was inspired by the periods of his life during which he lived in California. The works express a dazzling brightness that brings to mind the dry Californian heat – the depictions of tanned young men illustrate the painter’s home-erotic desires. Both are wound up against the L.A. backdrop: a glamorous jet setting life, encapsulated in the then relatively new medium of acrylic.

In 1972 Hockney was commissioned to design one of the 15 official posters for the 1972 Olympic Games, which would took place in Munich. The work shows the American dream in high speed: flashing colors and fragmented shapes call up the imagery of sound. Rushing water becomes synchronised with the applause rising up from the arena. A curious fact: Hockney was born with synesthesia, meaning he sees colours when hearing sound.

David Hockney painting
David Hockney, Munich Olympic Games [Olympic Poster Diver], 1972, © David Hockney

Hockney would later be re-commissioned to make a similar work for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, for which he used his famous photographic collage technique.

This month sees the World Championships in Athletics taking place at the London Olympic Park. The Championships echo the 2012 Olympic Games and, in their turn, every Olympic Games played before that. They are the quintessential ‘anti-fragment’ in the history of nations; we use them to get closer to our sense of a home country, a sense of who we are as a people. Despite the unavoidable racial, class and gendered problematics that are inevitably part of structures such as these, and ironically, the Games claim to unite people in favor of a common cause. Within the context of the Games, every particle becomes part of something larger than itself. 

Hockney spent a lot of time rethinking the problems and possibilities of the fragmented versus the whole. Whether it was in painting or photography, his fascination with the piece versus the puzzle laid bare a complicated relationship to the experience of life through art. In a way, his title for the swimming pool series, A Bigger Splash, almost comically refers to and predicts the kind of antagonistic plays on truth, reality and vision Hockney would enjoy drawing out later in life. As enticed by clear surfaces as his images are, they are always somehow broken up, shattered in a way by the sheer presence of a view, embodied by the audience or the painter's perspective. The more beautiful the scene, the bigger the need for a disruptive splash.

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The Camden Art Collection comprises a rich variety of works dating from the late 1950s to today, by artists who have had a strong connection to the borough, including Sandra Blow, Jean Cooke, John Bratby, Maggie Hambling, Derek Jarman, Prunella Clough, Terry Frost, Adrian Heath, Wilhemina Barns-Graham and limited edition works on paper by David Hockney and Patrick Caulfield. For more information visit our online archive.

Read more of our Hidden Treasure series by clicking below!