TRUE COLOURS

Harper’s Bazaar (Australia) - - Contents - SAN­JIV BHAT­TACHARYA

Art icon David Hock­ney at home in LA.

At 79, DAVID HOCK­NEY is busier than ever, with two new books and a host of up­com­ing ex­hi­bi­tions, in­clud­ing a ma­jor show in Melbourne. He talks por­trai­ture, bo­hemia and art-icon sta­tus with

-It’s another busy morn­ing at David Hock­ney’s home stu­dio on Mont­calm Av­enue, a gor­geous sun-dap­pled cul-de-sac in the Hol­ly­wood Hills. His stu­dio man­ager, Jean-pierre (JP), is fo­cused on his lap­top. His per­sonal as­sis­tant, Jonathan, is work­ing a pro­jec­tor at the back. And the artist him­self, with paint on his trousers and small round glasses un­der a thatch of hair — look­ing very Hock­ney, it must be said — is giv­ing a tour to a guest: me.

“When I bought the house in 1979, this was a pad­dle-ten­nis court,” he says in his gen­tle york­shire brogue. “but I have no in­ter­est in pad­dle ten­nis or any other sports, for that mat­ter.” So he con­verted it into a stu­dio, an ex­pan­sive white cuboid of a room where he can work, which is what he’s re­ally in­ter­ested in.and in re­cent years, he has been es­pe­cially ac­tive. On the walls to­day are por­traits against blue from his most re­cent show, 82 Por­traits and 1 Still-life, at the Royal Acad­emy (RA) in Lon­don — and he fin­ished them all in just two years. “i would take two or three days each, paint­ing for seven hours a day,” he says. “Well, to ask some­one to sit for a week, they’ve got to re­ar­range their lives, haven’t they? But three days is a long week­end.”

We stop in the cen­tre of his stu­dio, where Hock­ney points to the floor and smiles. “there, that’s the whole thing,” he says. And at our feet is a knee-high model of the RA gallery it­self, with thumb­nail minia­tures of his por­traits af­fixed to its tiny walls. It’s like a school dio­rama, a Lil­liputian ex­hi­bi­tion. “It’s a good thing we made the model,” he ex­plains, “be­cause we re­alised we couldn’t fit all the por­traits in.”

“You mean, you had more?” I ask. And he nods. “Oh, yes. what was the to­tal, jp? Ninety-some­thing?”

Pi­casso, Monet, Matisse, O’ke­effe — a lot of great artists have had cre­ative streaks in their old age. Hock­ney is another. Hav­ing just turned 79, he’s as pro­lific as he was in the ’60s, when he burst onto the scene along­side Pop Art con­tem­po­raries such as Warhol and Rauschen­berg. He was last at the Royal Acad­emy only four years ago, for A Big­ger Pic­ture, his land­mark ex­hi­bi­tion of York­shire land­scapes. The fol­low­ing year, he un­veiled Seven York­shire Land­scape Videos at the Los An­ge­les County Mu­seum of Art, fol­lowed by The Ar­rival of Spring in 2014 (char­coal sketches and ipad paint­ings), and, in 2015, Paint­ing and Pho­tog­ra­phy at the An­nely Juda Fine Art gallery in Lon­don.

This year, in ad­di­tion to the por­traits, there’s a whole slew of projects on his prover­bial desk. taschen is re­leas­ing a book of his life’s work: David Hock­ney Sumo is so big, at nearly one me­tre tall and 30 kilo­grams, that it takes a trol­ley to cart it around. “we had to take some pages out be­cause it was too heavy,” he says. He has another book out, ti­tled A His­tory of Pic­tures (Thames & Hud­son), which he co-wrote with the critic Martin Gay­ford. “it’s not just about art, but pho­tog­ra­phy, tele­vi­sion, movies … self­ies!” he says, laugh­ing. then there’s his forth­com­ing ex­hi­bi­tion in Melbourne, at the Na­tional Gallery of vic­to­ria, about art and tech­nol­ogy — fit­ting for an artist who has har­nessed new tech­nolo­gies through­out his ca­reer, from fax ma­chines to Po­laroids to the ipad, which he still car­ries around for sketch­ing. And next year, there will be a full ret­ro­spec­tive at the Tate Bri­tain, Lon­don, which will travel on to the Pom­pi­dou Cen­tre in Paris and then the Met in Newyork. So how does he do it?

“Well, I don’t go out much,” he says with a shrug. “i’m too deaf. If you go out of an evening, you’re usu­ally go­ing to lis­ten to some­thing, even if it’s only peo­ple in a restau­rant.” He hasn’t been to an open­ing since the 1970s, when his hear­ing prob­lems be­gan. Even to­day, with a hear­ing aid, he can’t dis­tin­guish one sound from the next. So as we speak, ev­ery­one else in the stu­dio must re­main silent.

But deaf­ness isn’t the only rea­son Hock­ney works from nine to three ev­ery day, week­ends in­cluded; or why his stu­dio man­ager, JP, lives in the bed­room be­low his, and his busi­ness man­ager, Gre­gory Evans, lives next door; why his world re­volves around his work. “i’ve al­ways been a worker,” he says. “I pre­fer it to any­thing else I do. I wasn’t a party boy at all. you’ll see that in the Taschen book.” He stamps his cig­a­rette out on the floor and reaches for another. “as an artist, I’m driven, al­ways have been, re­ally. And I feel OK. I can still stand up seven hours a day paint­ing. artists don’t re­tire. they go on.”

The por­traits be­gan at a dif­fi­cult time in Hock­ney’s life — a blue pe­riod in more ways than one. after the suc­cess of A Big­ger Pic­ture in 2012, he suf­fered a mild stroke, and then, in early 2013, his 23-year-old stu­dio as­sis­tant Dominic El­liott com­mit­ted sui­cide by drink­ing a bot­tle of drain cleaner in Hock­ney’s home in Bridling­ton, East York­shire. It was a sor­did story of drugs and sex, in­volv­ing Hock­ney’s ex-boyfriend John Fitzher­bert. while Hock­ney him­self was never im­pli­cated, the episode dev­as­tated him. When he re­turned to Mont­calm Av­enue, he didn’t paint for four months, his long­est ever dry spell.

Then one day, he asked JP to sit for him. “I just hap­pened to be sit­ting with my head in my hands,” JP tells me in his mild French ac­cent.“and he said, ‘Hold it there,’ be­cause we were all feel­ing like that at the time. In a way, it was a self-portrait.”

It got the juices flow­ing. Hock­ney says he quickly moved onto friends and ac­quain­tances, “and al­most any­one who’d come”. He whips out his ipad and flicks through some of the names — the gal­lerist Larry Gagosian (“He only gave me two days”) and the pub­lisher Benedikt Taschen (“He’s my neigh­bour; he lives in that space­ship house”). “after about 10, I thought, ‘Well, they’re get­ting rather good!’ So I just kept go­ing. And I could go on for­ever. I mean, it’s end­lessly fas­ci­nat­ing, look­ing at peo­ple. Every­body is al­ways in­ter­est­ing. we’re all in­di­vid­u­als, you see.”

It seems in­evitable that, with this show, Hock­ney will yet again be de­scribed as Bri­tain’s great­est liv­ing artist, es­pe­cially since the death of Lu­cian Freud. But he shoos away such hon­orifics. “It’s mean­ing­less to me. That’s just the press do­ing that,” he says. He turned down a knight­hood in 1990 be­cause “I didn’t want to be Sir David, frankly”, and only ac­cepted the Queen’s Or­der of Merit in 2012 be­cause “there’s only 24 peo­ple who get it, so I thought I might as well. But it doesn’t mean much to me.the ex­hi­bi­tion will mean more.”

Does he get ner­vous be­fore a big show? “No, I don’t care.why would you? I think you need crit­ics, be­cause you need pub­lic­ity. That’s all they’re do­ing, re­ally. Se­ri­ous crit­i­cism is not done in news­pa­pers.” Be­sides, Pi­casso didn’t care about crit­ics, and there’s no artist that Hock­ney ad­mires more. “There’s no re­peats in Pi­casso.you can go on dis­cov­er­ing him 30 years after he died.”

His por­traits are all priced at a hand­some $2.2 mil­lion, so I ask him what he makes of the price of art these days. “Oh, it’s so

“It’s end­lessly fas­ci­nat­ing, look­ing at peo­ple. Every­body is al­ways in­ter­est­ing. We’re all in­di­vid­u­als, you see.”

ridicu­lous,” he says. “I just as­sume it’s drug money. Be­cause that money isn’t sit­ting in card­board boxes in Colom­bia. It’s be­ing in­vested.” Does he know what his per­sonal record is? “Some­where in the £7 to £8 mil­lion [about $13 mil­lion] range, I think. But I don’t think about it. I’ve al­ways had enough money to do what I wanted to do, for the past 55 years, even when I didn’t have much. And that’s all I’m in­ter­ested in. what’s money for if not that?”

He didn’t come from money. His par­ents were a mod­est cou­ple from Brad­ford in west­y­ork­shire — his fa­ther a clerk and out­spo­ken Com­mu­nist, and his mother a house­wife who raised Hock­ney and his four sib­lings. His childhood was a happy one. He adored his par­ents. Re­mark­ably for the time, they ac­cepted that he was gay and that we wanted to paint for a liv­ing — not the eas­i­est path for ay­ork­shire teenager in the 1940s. and with their bless­ing, at 16 he went from Brad­ford School of Art to the Royal Col­lege of Art (RCA) in Lon­don, where he fell in with R.B. Ki­taj and Peter Blake. Straight­away, his tal­ents and con­fi­dence were ob­vi­ous. When the RCA re­fused to grad­u­ate him be­cause he hadn’t sub­mit­ted an es­say, Hock­ney de­manded they judge him so­ley on his art, and ul­ti­mately, the RCA changed its rules to pass him.

He moved to Los An­ge­les in 1964 be­cause “no one asked you where you’d been or where you’d come from”. He’d been teased in art school for his York­shire ac­cent, but in LA, there was none of that. And it was eas­ier to be gay. “There was a big gay bar here in 1964, the Red Raven, when there wasn’t even one in New York.” His ca­reer blos­somed. He be­came known for his pool paint­ings, his de­pic­tions of gay re­la­tion­ships, the sweet por­traits of his par­ents. He moved to Lon­don, then Paris, then LA again, but wher­ever he went, he was, in his words, in “bo­hemia” — a state of mind and a way of liv­ing that he has cher­ished his whole life. “in 1960, it was il­le­gal to be gay, but I pointed out that I lived in bo­hemia, and in bo­hemia you can be gay.” A flick of the wrist. “you can be any­thing.”

Nat­u­rally, there were drugs in bo­hemia, and Hock­ney dab­bled, but work al­ways came first. “I’d take co­caine with Gre­gory [Evans] — who’s now sober — and he’d al­ways want more,” he chuck­les. “I’d say, ‘Don’t you think that’s enough for the time be­ing? There’s work to do!’” He misses bo­hemia now. “newyork is bor­ing.the rents are too high for bo­hemia. If the young can’t go to a place, it’s go­ing to die … What hap­pened was you had bo­hemia and sub­ur­bia, and then the sub­ur­ban be­came a bit more bo­hemian. But they started on their no smok­ing, no this, no that. Well, that’s not bo­hemia … With mi­nori­ties you’ve got to be tol­er­ant, and smok­ers are a mi­nor­ity. So you shouldn’t go on about smok­ing, be­cause it’s a bit in­tol­er­ant.” For Hock­ney, cig­a­rettes are a sym­bol of bo­hemia, and he proudly de­scribed him­self as a “mil­i­tant smoker”. when he asks if I smoke and of­fers a David­off Mag­num Clas­sic — “Big­ger, wider, very, very smooth” — there seems only one po­lite re­sponse.

“I know how fa­nat­i­cal anti-smok­ing peo­ple can be be­cause my fa­ther was one,” he says. “in 1999, I was in­vited to a Labour

Party con­fer­ence in Brighton to talk about smok­ing, and there was this man with a big sign say­ing ‘100 mil­lion peo­ple were killed by to­bacco in the 20th cen­tury’. and I thought, that’s my fa­ther — he’d be like this. So I pointed out that 100 mil­lion peo­ple were killed in the 20th cen­tury for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons, and their deaths were ter­ri­ble.the ones from smok­ing die in their beds.you can’t use the word ‘kill’.” His fa­ther died at 76 from com­pli­ca­tions as­so­ci­ated with type-2 di­a­betes. “i’ve out­lived him now by three years. Say no more!” he says, grin­ning. “I’ve been smok­ing for 62 years, so why stop now? Pi­casso smoked, died at 91. Matisse smoked, died at 84. Monet smoked, died at 86.What are they go­ing on about?”

The de­cline of smok­ing aside, he’s a fan of moder­nity. For one thing, he finds it more peace­ful.“have you read Steven Pinker’s book The Bet­ter An­gels of Our Na­ture?” he asks. “Vi­o­lence is go­ing down.” He also loves the tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances, and not only for their artis­tic po­ten­tial. Smart­phones, he says, have trans­ferred power from the aris­toc­racy to in­di­vid­u­als. “would you have had the slaugh­ter of the First­world­war if every­body had an iphone? I doubt it. Peo­ple would be send­ing their mes­sages: ‘Don’t come to the Somme!’”

As for gay mar­riage, he didn’t see that com­ing at all. Not that he was ever tempted him­self to get mar­ried or raise a fam­ily. His last lover was Fitzher­bert, and they split in 2009.“I al­ways thought I’d be sin­gle,” he says. “But I have a fam­ily of another sort. Every­body does, in a way. And I think artists are not that good par­ents — I’ve known a few. they think about their work too much.” He pauses for a mo­ment. “So I’ve missed out on some things, I would say that. But you man­age in life, don’t you? I re­mem­ber once at Glyn­de­bourne [opera fes­ti­val], The New York Times had an ar­ti­cle about the so­cial scene, the pic­nics and things, and they asked the press sec­re­tary, ‘What do you do if it rains?’ And she said, ‘We man­age.’ That’s a very good an­swer. That’s what I’ve done.you make up with some things what you lose on oth­ers.”

Per­haps the great­est loss Hock­ney has had to bear has been his hear­ing. It started to re­cede in the 1970s, and has wors­ened ever since. “that was why I didn’t like Stu­dio 54, be­cause I couldn’t stand the sound,” he says. It was hered­i­tary — both his fa­ther and sis­ter went deaf. “i’m sure my fa­ther never heard a word my mother said in the last 10 years of his life, be­cause she spoke so softly. But I knew why,” he says. And he walks over to me and puts his arm around my shoul­ders and leans in. “be­cause then we had to go close and lis­ten like this.”

Deaf­ness has dra­mat­i­cally cur­tailed his so­cial life. He avoids crowds and sel­dom goes into town. oc­ca­sion­ally, he’ll in­vite friends over, but even then, he strug­gles if more than one per­son is talk­ing at a time.and there’s no mu­sic. No more con­certs of opera. “i leave de­pressed. It’s just not rich any­more. It gets me down some­times.”

In his bi­og­ra­phy of the artist, the au­thor Christo­pher Si­mon Sykes speaks of pe­ri­ods of de­pres­sion and dark­ness, but Hock­ney shakes his head, ever so sub­tly. “he didn’t get ev­ery­thing right in that book.” He was never de­pressed in the clin­i­cal sense, he says. Al­though, there was one time when he wouldn’t get out of bed for three days, and Evans despatched him for treat­ment to a clinic in Pasadena. “it was ab­so­lutely charm­less. Not a sin­gle flower.t hey put me in this room and the only pic­ture on the wall said ‘No smok­ing’. and then the man asked how many times had I tried to kill my­self. well, I hadn’t, so I got out of there. But when I went to the doc­tor, he told me, ‘You’re prone to pan­cre­ati­tis, so I’d ad­vise you give up al­co­hol and caf­feine.’ I said ‘Well, as long as I can smoke.’ And I’ve never ex­pe­ri­enced that since, so now I re­alise. It was al­ways after a drink.”

It’s time to take some pic­tures, so we head out to his garden, into a clas­sic LA scene, the kind he might paint — blue skies and palm trees, a crys­talline pool, of course, and a shoot in progress. The portrait artist get­ting his portrait taken.

As the pho­tog­ra­pher snaps away, Hock­ney’s thoughts turn to his adop­tive home. For, as English as he feels, home is here now, in the balmy idyll of Mont­calm Av­enue. “you live very pri­vately in LA,” he says. “You get in your car and go to some­one else’s house, and you’re not meet­ing peo­ple on the street like in Lon­don and New York.” Not that he drives him­self about any­more, not since 2013. Jonathan takes care of that now. “i’ve al­ways loved LA be­cause it’s spread out, and Newyork is ver­ti­cal, which is a per­spec­tive night­mare for me.”

Hock­ney can talk about per­spec­tive all day long. Few artists have stud­ied it in such depth. So he hap­pily am­bles down a tan­gent about how Chi­nese paint­ing has no shad­ows, only Euro­pean paint­ing does, and that’s be­cause Re­nais­sance artists used a cam­era ob­scura, which he fa­mously proved and can show you if you’ve got a minute … But JP is look­ing at his watch. He’s the keeper of Hock­ney’s sched­ule, and he runs a tight ship. “five min­utes,” he an­nounces. “David must break at 1pm.” The whiff of lunch wafts across the garden — Hock­ney’s two house­keep­ers have the ta­ble set and ready. So I ask him about mor­tal­ity. After all, he’s in his au­tumn, if not his win­ter quite yet. “well, I know I’m go­ing to die,” he says with a grin. “And I think about it more now. But what do artists do? They go on to live all over. And I think maybe my art will go on, be­cause the young are in­ter­ested in it.”

He pro­duces a fresh packet of Camel Lights, and sparks up maybe his sixth of the in­ter­view, savour­ing the smoke and squint­ing into the sun­shine. “You know, I live to live in the now, but this Taschen book has made me look back. And there’s all this work.and I’m quite im­pressed with it!” he says, laugh­ing. “some’s bet­ter than oth­ers, but I haven’t wasted my time. No, it’s go­ing to be a very nice book, and ev­ery­one will see that I was al­ways just an artist, con­cerned with how do you rep­re­sent the 3-D world in 2-D. I’ve al­ways been ask­ing ques­tions about that, re­ally.”

“I think maybe my art will go on.”

Barry Humphries, 26–28 March, 2015. The solo ex­hi­bi­tion David Hock­ney: Cur­rent is on at NGV In­ter­na­tional, Melbourne, from Novem­ber 11 un­til March 13, 2017; ngv.vic.gov.au.

Self Portrait, ipad draw­ing, 2012.

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