January 21, 2019

Everything you ever wanted to know about David Hockney. And probably a bit more

The second part of Christopher Simon Sykes detailed biography of David Hockney is now available and takes the story of the British artist’s life from 1975 right up to his recent iPad images.

Covering the most productive period of his life it finds him flitting between Notting Hill, Bradford and California. This is the time when he creates many of his best known works, including the swimming pool paintings and opera set designs. Throughout the period he is experimenting with technique and technology, whether creating his own paper or downloading painting apps for his iPad.

The book starts with a wide photograph of Hockney at work in a field, his paints carefully lined up on a table, two canvases in front of him. It demonstrates how Hockney is inspired by life, but not beholden to what he sees. He is not attempting a perfect recreation of the scene, instead the few clouds are multiplied, fields are enlarged, colours are brightened. Hedges are simplified, trees appear. His filtered bursts of colour build a stylised landscape.

Sykes has had access to Hockney’s private papers and diaries as well as family and friends and has written a bouncy tale of one of England’s most successful artists. Hockney meets the people who make up art and cultural history. They appear as part of the tale, with many quotes from letters written to Kitaj, talk of painting Divine, lunching with Billy Wilde. He is good friends with Peter Blake and Howard Hodgkin. But art exists as a basic necessity in his life, – drawing helped him through the days after his father died.

Amusing anecdotes sit in amongst the art history. The appearance of his first hearing aid leads to a passage where Hockney explains to a friend he needs it to hear girls as they speak at a higher pitch than men. His friend (Henry Geldzahler) replies ‘well, you can throw it away then!’. We also learn of his idiosyncrasies. When and why the blond hair appeared. That he prefers to work at street level and his extravagance whilst travelling.

The 400 pages include interesting artistic details, such as the difficulties he had creating a family portrait and his many experimentations with media. Reed pens, paper pulp and dense film animation acrylics are a few of the methods Hockney has used to express his ideas. Then there is his use of new technology to push the boundaries of creation, from Polaroids in the 1970s to iPads in the 21st century. ‘Whatever your medium is you have to respond to it,’ he says, happy for the method he chooses for each work to influence the final piece.

Hockney will not be authorising anyone else to write about him, so this is the definite record of his life and work. Entertaining and full of quotations it is an in-depth trawl through Hockney’s life. Though lengthy it has sections interesting for both the general reader and the art historian.

Get your hands on a copy here

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