David Hockney at Tate Britain / Q & A with Martin Gayford
Last night I was lucky to get to see the new David Hockney show at Tate Britain. The exhibition is a survey of almost 60 years of Britain's most popular artist. I thought it was brilliant. I've always been a fan of the work he made in the 1960s when he was a student at the Royal College of Art. It was also good to revisit all his iconic swimming pool paintings, The double portraits and the collages of Polaroids still delight. There were of course dozens of great works I'd never seen before including two vibrant paintings of his garden in LA made in much more recent times.
As you'd expect the Tate catalogue of the exhibition is well worth getting. Younger Hockney fans will love Rose Blake's "Meet The Artist" and a few rich people will rush out and buy the limited edition Taschen SUMO sized monograph.
However, of all the books on Hockney available I personally get the most out of reading Hockney's conversations with Martin Gayford. "Sparky, illuminating and entertaining – a decade’s worth of conversations between David Hockney and art critic Martin Gayford that explore via anecdote, reflection, passion and humour the very nature of creativity."
A few years back I swapped some emails with Mr Gayford about working with Hockney. Hope you enjoy the following funsize interview.
Me: Have you always been an admirer of Hockney's work, has there ever been a time when you couldn't connect with his art or get enthusiastic about his passions?
Martin: "I suppose I experienced a slow process of getting to know his work and ideas better as I got to know him, starting in the early 1990s"
Me: "How much control did he give you over the book? Did he insist on many changes and cuts?"
Martin: "In a way, he gave total control. Naturally, I sent it to him when I'd finished. He said "I'll read it very carefully". At that point he could have asked to change this or that, but in the event he was happy with everything."
Me: Have you ever had a heated conversation with him? If you thought his arguments on, (for example) smoking were full of holes would you confront him?
Martin: "We've never had a sharp disagreement, though he thinks I'm a bit eccentric I think in certain respects - travelling by train, not smoking. We tend to agree, at least about art and we're both a bit bohemian and libertarian."Me: Hockney has very strong links to great artists of the past such as Picasso. Various critics often say they feel that men of the moment such as Grayson Perry or Jeremy Deller aren't really artists. Would you agree that Hockney is the real deal whereas most Turner Prize winners will be forgotten about in a few years?
Martin: "I think Hockney (and Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff and several other contemporary artists) are definitely the real deal. I find it hard generalise about Turner Prize winners. Several of them -Antony Gormley, for example, and Chris Ofili - I have a lot of time for, others much less."Me: "Of all your conversations with Hockney over the years which exchange, claim or observation took you by surprise?"
Martin: "Hmm, perhaps when he told me about reading Proust for the first time, and having to look up asparagus. He'd never heard of it, they didn't have it in Bradford."
I can't claim to have had a chat with Hockney but when I bumped into him at the main entrance he was kind enough to write a good luck message to my friend Francis Macdonald (see above.) I told Hockney that Francis had composed a piece of music about him on his previous album and that he had a new album coming out very soon. Hockney said almost nothing but he seemed very happy to oblige and smiled a lot.
The Hockney show runs at Tate Britain (near Pimlico tube) from 9th Feb to the 29th May. Martin's book "A Bigger Message" is published by Thames & Hudson. "Triet for David Hockney" appears on "Music For String Quartet, Piano And Celeste" More info - www.francismacdonald.com