Magazine article The Spectator

Lust for Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Lust for Life

Article excerpt

Hockney: The Biography, Volume I, A Rake's Progess by Christopher Simon Sykes

Century, £25, pp. 363, ISBN 9781846057083

Seduced by the hayseed hair and the Yorkshire accent it's tempting to see the young David Hockney as the Freddie Flintoff of the painting world: lovable, simple, brilliant, undoubtedly a hero, and delightfully free of angst. In this enjoyable book, which sets out to to 'conjure up the man he is and in doing so to put his paintings and drawings in the context of his extraordinary life', Christopher Simon Sykes provides us, naturally, with a more complex story.

Hockney is a hero if course - not least to homosexuals, for blazing a stylish and courageous trail to emancipation in the 1960s, and more recently to beleaguered smokers in his stand against politically correct bullying. And he shares with Flintoff that irresistible suggestion of innocence combined with strength - like a figure out of one of the fairytales that Hockney so memorably illustrated.

Sykes conjures up the settings in which the young artist's originality, his prodigious appetite for work, friendship and life in general, was played out: Bradford in the Fifties (where heraldry was still on the artschool syllabus), and the sleezy and glamorous circles in London, California, and Paris between which Hockney divided his time in the Sixties.

We see Hockney the conscientious objector and militant vegetarian (his first serious paintings inspired by vegetarianism), Aldermarston-marcher and Cliff Richard fan, who modelled his appearance, for a time, on Stanley Spencer; we see him taking the waters at Vichy and delighting in promiscuous sex in LA; breakfasting alone at the Cafe de Flore as he takes refuge in Paris from a broken heart; staying with the film-director Tony Richardson at Le Nid de Duc; taken by John Pope-Hennessy, the Director of the V&A, to visit Harold Acton at La Pietra.

We have Hockney the clown, the rebel and the Boy Scout; the music-lover, the patient friend, the thoughtful and devoted son. And inside the 'gregarious Yorshireman' and enjoyer of life whose energy sustained a whole raffish entourage of friends, admirers and hangers-on, we have the single-minded artist with the necessary ruthlessness to be able to get on with his work amidst all the distractions of adulation, sex and high living.

The account of David Hockney's family and boyhood is particularly engaging, and Hockney pere a character of Dickensian dimensions: a devout Methodist (Hockney's parents met on 'a Methodist ramble on the moors'), serious photographer, natty and ingenious dresser; conscientious objector whose stand caused his family to be persecuted by neighbours; passionate campaigner against hanging and smoking, founder-member of CND and poster-maker for his various causes. …

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