Objects of Desire: David Hockney’s Muse in ‘A Bigger Splash’

The ennui, the lethargy; it’s a hard life being a famous artist, surrounded by beautiful boys! David Hockney, who is no actor believe me, stars in this drama-doc directed by Jack Hazan and based in the time during the early ’70s when Hockney and his ‘set’ bestrode the world of fashion and art. Amongst the contributors are Ceila Birtwell and the late Ossie Clark. Their seemingly effortless arts-school style helped to define the era and the acceptance of different lifestyles was ahead of its time. Living amid the groovy setting of Notting Hill and Kensington the airy, easy spaces of their studios are evoked and the partying and jetset lifestyle is still something to envy.

Hockney is tracked as his relationship with the beautiful California art-school graduate Peter Schlesinger breaks up. He draws Schlesinger, including the delicate detail of his features and clothing, and takes him as his ‘muse’. His is the body in the pool drenched in West Coast sunlight and easing gracefully around the pastel world of the ‘Splash’ paintings. There is a delicate, relaxed quality to the film; it’s a pseudo-drama. Nothing really happens in this artistic world, but it all looks great!

The apartments are beautiful: the clean lines, period features reflected in pristine mirrors and vases of sumptuous lilies. And we have front row seats for an Ossie Clark fashion show – which can’t be bad. It’s intriguing to see the parade of designs and just how ‘now’ they are – the influences are so clear and one can truly say on this evidence that fashions come around again and again! This is 1973, and the clothes could have just appeared on the Spring 2012 catwalks. We also have a privileged ‘over-the-shoulder’ shot as Birtwell sketches out some of her flamboyant fabric designs. And the private world of Hockney’s creativity is never a disappointment.

Was something else supposed to be happening? Oh, yes – something about a relationship breaking up. I got distracted by the clothes and the art. This is a lovely, stylish, hip, funky, creative piece. The artists and designers in it are not being real or themselves; they are acting the part of icons of style and coolness. They are aloof and photographed in minute close-up or with panning shots along the body, or seen at a distance striding across a road in West London — all flying lapels and droopy brims. And they chainsmoke unceasingly.

Hockney, for me, just does not date. His recent explorations in colour and form using the iPad, his new exhibitions at the Royal Academy, and documentaries about the history and theory of painting demonstrate the energy that the artist possesses (more of which could have been shown in the extras for my preference). He is now the grand old master, but in A Bigger Splash he was still the insolent upstart. Schlesinger, also a sculptor and photographer in his own right, is still generating work and maintains contact with Hockney – acknowledging the painter’s influence on him. For all the supposed scandalous goings-on that this film might reveal it is ultimately a quiet testament to creativity. Also style — and gorgeous interiors, and retro design that never seems to date.

RATING 8 / 10