The Rolling Stone Interview: David Hockney, modern art master
“You have to come in daylight, because I have this little Wagner drive….”
‘Wagner drive?” “You’ll see.” That’s all he would say. I hung up the phone. David Hockney had agreed to be interviewed, and I headed to his Malibu, California, home to meet him, arriving there in the midafternoon. After an hour or so of talking, he told me it was time to go. When I suggested bringing my tape recorder – to continue the interview while we drove – he shook his head. “I don’t think it will do you any good,” he said. I eased myself into Hockney’s chrome red two-seater Mercedes – a vintage convertible – and he backed the sleek machine out of his garage. He began to push buttons on a control panel that looked like something NASA had made and said, almost apologetically, “I’m losing my hearing, so I treated myself to a pretty good system….” He put the car in gear and sped north on the Pacific Coast Highway. “Twelve speakers.”
David Hockney is best known for his work with paint and canvas, but he has also worked in media as diverse as Polaroid-photo collage and fax painting. He has designed opera sets and living rooms. So this piece – the Wagner drive – must be his latest. Hockney has been called the most important artist of the latter half of this century. He is inarguably one of the best known and most successful artists of our time, probably the most famous living artist. Yet his status as a great artist is hotly debated. The reaction against him is based partly on the accessibility of his work – it is intensely colorful, with friendly, palatable images. He paints interiors, portraits and landscapes; he is best known for his paintings of swimming pools. Although many of his paintings are abstract (he is obsessed by cubism), and intellectual games layer his work, most of Hockney’s paintings are also very, very pretty. The critic Robert Hughes called Hockney the Cole Porter of modern art. He has been written off as an illustrator or a pop artist because he embraces unconventional forms, making art with laser printers and Xerox machines. And his paintings show up in places other than museums and galleries: He recently painted the cover of a telephone book.
In a way, Hockney is his own worst enemy – and not only because of the images he chooses to paint. He lives quietly in Los Angeles rather than in a fancy loft in New York’s West Village. He likes his parents. He loves opera. In a world populated by shameless self-promoters, he is known for his grace, wit and charm – no bad drug habits. He has always been candid yet discreet about his sexuality. Hockney was born in 1937 in the small town of Bradford, in the north of England. He moved to London in 1959 to attend the prestigious Royal College of Art. There he became immersed in the counterculture that created Swinging London in the early Sixties. He first visited California in 1964 – discovering a paradise of sunshine, pools and boys – and moved there in 1978. From his studio in the hills above Hollywood, the prolific Hockney turns out a steady stream of work in traditional and experimental media.