Hockney Bests Hirst With IPhone Sketches From Remote Yorkshire

David Hockney and Martin Gayford
David Hockney and Bloomberg News chief art critic Martin Gayford at Hockney's studio in Bridlington. Gayford's books include "A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney." Photographer: Jean-Pierre Goncalves de Lima/Kate Burvill PR via Bloomberg

Few can claim to receive David Hockney drawings on their iPhone, e-mailed over by the artist himself. Martin Gayford can.

Gayford (chief art critic of Bloomberg Muse) has just published a book on the 74-year-old British artist, “A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney.” In it, Hockney offers insights into the art of painting, be it on touchscreen or on canvas. The book is a walkup to “A Bigger Picture,” the major Hockney show at London’s Royal Academy of Arts (Jan. 21 - April 9, 2012).

Over lunch at the Royal Academy’s new restaurant, Gayford takes an iPhone out of his jacket and presents a dazzling mini-assortment of Hockney drawings: flowers drooping from a vase, skies shifting at sunset. I ask how he rates Hockney.

Gayford: I think David Hockney may well be, now, the greatest living painter in this country. He’s a very, very large presence.

Nayeri: Many artists tend to be well past their peak when they reach old age. Not Hockney.

Gayford: It’s not necessarily true that artists go off. I think it depends on how they’re able to maintain their energy and renew their ideas.

Hockney is enormously prolific with ideas and work, the sort of artist you see in constant motion. It’s very difficult to say what a typical David Hockney looks like. He’s been through perhaps more periods than Picasso. There isn’t that sort of evolution toward a signature style.

Nayeri: How do you rate his iPad and iPhone works?

Light Spirit

Gayford: Some of the things he did on the iPad are among his best recent works. The flexibility and quickness and adaptability really suit him down to the ground. He has it with him all the time, and when he feels like drawing, he draws immediately. It seems to bring out a lightness of spirit. The iPhone ones I like as well. They’re very loose and free.

Hockney uses all sorts of levels of scale. He’s produced some of the largest oil paintings of the last several years. And he’s made some tiny ones, smaller than a postcard.

Nayeri: What’s it like in Bridlington, East Yorkshire, where he now lives?

Gayford: It’s certainly a nice place to visit, and it’s certainly quiet. You’re not distracted by things. I’m not sure to what extent, even now, the inhabitants of Bridlington have taken him in and realized what’s going on. It’s possible they might get a bit of tourism from the R.A. exhibition.

High Energy

He’s been on an energy high since he moved to Bridlington. He says since he moved into the new studio, he’s felt a lot younger.

Nayeri: What makes Hockney decide to move to the U.S. some forty years ago?

Gayford: America is a very glamorous place to be in the 60s. A lot of young British artists move there. What’s slightly different about David is that he likes L.A. more than New York. As he said in his book “David Hockney by David Hockney,” it’s partly to do with sex. As he said more recently, he likes the spaciousness. His house on Mulholland Drive has a very good view right over the plains of central L.A. Also, the landscape of the West is quite important to him.

Nayeri: What drove him away from the U.K. at the time?

Gayford: In the late 60s and early 70s, he got fed up with Britain, which I think might have been partly to do with becoming a celebrity. He finds that bothering: It disrupts his concentration. He moved to Paris for a while in the early 70s. A similar sort of thing happened. So he finally settled in L.A.

L.A. House

He’s got a house and a studio and an office, all in L.A. He doesn’t say he’s left L.A. permanently. He reserves the possibility he might return.

Nayeri: What will the world remember of Hockney?

Gayford: Well, we possibly don’t know yet! I would certainly hope he’s got quite a lot of work left in him. At the moment he’s going from strength to strength.

He may, among other things, revolutionize the way you see art history and the history of images. He’s one of the great draughtsmen of the last fifty years. He has produced an abundance of work with enormous joie de vivre.

He reaches a wider public than Tracey Emin or Damien Hirst. I don’t know quite how he does it. He’s been very popular since he was about 25. He hasn’t waned.

“A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney” is from Thames & Hudson (248 pages, 18.95 pounds). The book is available on import into the U.S. from prices of about $22. To buy the book in North America, click here.

(Farah Nayeri writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)

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