David hockney

The joy of hanging out with artists

Lynn Barber is known as a distinguished journalist, but what she always wanted to do was hang out with artists. This book feels like a marvellous cocktail party, packed with the painters and sculptors Barber has interviewed over the years: Howard Hodgkin, Phyllida Barlow, Grayson Perry, Maggi Hambling. Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin eye one another warily from opposite sides of the room; Salvador Dali’s ocelot weaves between the guests; everyone, naturally, is smoking. Lucian Freud is a no-show – though having refused Barber’s many interview requests, he did send a scrawled note explaining he had no wish to ‘be shat upon by a stranger’. Feuds and gossip are the

My lunch with Salman Rushdie

I have just come back from spending some days with David Hockney at his house in Normandy. We are making a film about him – the longest film about a single subject I have ever attempted. Like Monet’s, Hockney’s environment is his subject. The great sequence of ‘The Four Seasons’ is from his grounds. He finds all the different blossoms he needs there, and there is a river and a pond. His friend has turned an old barn into a magnificent studio. David is in his mid-eighties but is as sharp as he was the first time I interviewed him for The South Bank Show in 1978. Since then, there

Hockney’s Rake’s Progress remains one of the supreme achievements

With Glyndebourne’s The Rake’s Progress, the show starts with David Hockney’s front cloth. The colour, the ingenuity, the visual bravura: 46 years after this production’s first appearance in 1975, it’s still capable of halting you in your tracks. So drink it in. No blockbuster art exhibition will ever give you such ideal viewing conditions, or so much time with a single artwork. And no mock-up or faded video will ever be able to restore to Hockney’s sets and costumes the meaning and the impact that they possess when they’re peopled by living performers and accompanied by Stravinsky’s score. Come for the backdrops, stay for the opera. This is one revival

The joy of socially distanced gallery-going

Not long after the pubs, big galleries have all started to reopen, like flowers unfolding, one by one. The timing reminded me of an anecdote that Lucian Freud used to tell about a Soho painter friend he took into the National Gallery after it had shut (as some senior artists are entitled to do). They arrived after closing time in the drinking holes of Soho, and the painter friend was staggering and swaying so much that Lucian — who was not easily rattled — became alarmed that he was going to put one of his flailing arms through a Rembrandt. I wonder how those art-lovers of yesteryear would have coped

How John Constable got masterpiece after masterpiece out of a tiny corner of rural Suffolk

Before his marriage John Constable returned regularly in early summer to his native village of East Bergholt. When he wrote from there to his wife-to-be, Maria Bicknell, he almost always exclaimed that Suffolk was ‘in great beauty’. His enthusiasm was never more eloquent than on 22 June 1812, when he declared: ‘Nothing can exceed the beautiful appearance of the country at this time, its freshness, its amenity — the very breeze that passes the window is delightful, it has the voice of Nature.’ I often think about Constable (1776–1837) as I pace across the water meadows on my daily constitutional — partly because this too is an East Anglian landscape

‘I think I’ve found a real paradise’: David Hockney interviewed

Spring has not been cancelled. Neither have the arts ceased to function. David Hockney’s marvellous exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery may be sadly shut, but the artist himself is firing on all cylinders. ‘I was just drawing on this thing I’m talking to you on,’ he announced when I spoke to him via FaceTime the other day. He was sitting in the sunshine outside his half-timbered farmhouse in Normandy. ‘We’re very busy here,’ Hockney explained, ‘because all the blossom is just coming out, and there’s a lot more to come. The big cherry tree looks glorious right now. Next the leaves will open, but at the moment the blossom

On Van Gogh and Rembrandt

Being in the south of France obviously gave Vincent an enormous joy, which visibly comes out in the paintings. That’s what people feel when they look at them. They are so incredibly direct. I remember in some of his letters Vincent saying that he was aware he saw more clearly than other people. It was an intense vision… [H]e must have been doing some very concentrated looking. My God! After working for a long time, I get very tired eyes. I just have to close them… Photographs of those fields around Arles that Van Gogh painted wouldn’t interest us much. It’s a rather boring, flat landscape. Vincent makes us see

Time and motion

Andy Warhol would probably have been surprised to learn that his 1964 film ‘Empire’ had given rise to an entire genre. This work comprises eight hours and five minutes of slow-motion footage of the Empire State Building during which nothing much happens. Warhol remarked that it was a way of watching time pass or, you might say, the Zen of boredom. Much the same could be said of the films in Tacita Dean’s two exhibitions, Portrait and Still Life at the National Portrait Gallery and National Gallery respectively. The most ambitious of these, ‘Merce Cunningham performs STILLNESS’ (2008), on show at the NPG, is composed of six separate films, each

Fickle fortune | 21 September 2017

Here’s an intriguing thought experiment: could Damien Hirst disappear? By that I mean not the 52-year-old artist himself — that would be sensational indeed — but the vast fame, the huge prices, the hectares of newsprint, profiles, reviews and interviews by the thousand. Could all that just fade from our collective memory into a black hole of oblivion? The answer is: yes, quite easily. Artists vanish all the time. Take the case of Hans Makart (1840–1884). He was a contemporary of Monet, Manet and Degas, but enormously more acclaimed in his lifetime than any of those. A period of Viennese life was dubbed the ‘Makart era’, a fashionable idiom was

The good, the indifferent and the simply awful

‘There is only one thing worse than homosexual art,’ the painter Patrick Procktor was once heard to declare at a private view in the 1960s. ‘And that’s heterosexual art.’ It would have been intriguing to hear his views on Queer British Art at Tate Britain. All the more so since it includes several of his own works, including a fine line-drawing study of the playwright Joe Orton, completely naked except for his socks — which he kept on because he felt they were sexy — and reclining somewhat in the manner of Manet’s Olympia. In fact, many of those included might have had reservations — Oscar Wilde, for example, one

Internal affairs | 23 March 2017

Over 20 years ago I wrote about Giambattista Tiepolo in The Spectator. Shortly afterwards I went to visit Howard Hodgkin in his spacious, white, light-filled studio close to the British Museum. It turned out that he had read my column and was pleased that someone had been discussing this 18th-century Venetian, who was just his idea of what a painter should be: a subtle master of colour, poetic, sensual, a bit neglected — in other words, much as he saw himself. The real subject matter of an artist such as Tiepolo, I suggested that day, is not really the Madonna or the apotheosis of some minor aristocrat. It is something

Sunny delight

No Californian could have painted Hockney’s pools. No La-La Land artist, raised on sun and orange juice, would have done tiles and diving boards and tan-lined bottoms as the boy from Bradford did. It had to be a Hockney, brought up, the fourth of five children, in a two-up two-down. Hockney, who aged three had sheltered from bombs with his mother Laura, father Kenneth, four siblings and a lady neighbour in the cupboard under the stairs. A Yorkshire child steeped in Typhoo tea and fortified by meat and potatoes from Robert’s Pie Shop. A painter who had bicycled the Wolds in the rain, and lived in the garden shed of

Ways of seeing

‘Radical’ is like ‘creative’, a word that has been enfeebled to the point of meaninglessness. Everybody seems to want to be both, but nobody has any clear idea of what might be involved. In the case of this exhibition, radical could refer either to aesthetic or political themes; neither seems quite right. Never mind, ’modernist’ has, with the passage of time, become more firmly anchored. We now know it was a movement in the arts that began in about the 1880s and ended in, very roughly, the 1950s or ’60s. It was a period in which art became preoccupied with form as a determinant — rather than the servant —

Back in the USSR

For much of 1517 Michelangelo Buonarroti was busy quarrying marble in the mountains near Carrara. From time to time, however, he received letters relating how his affairs were going in Rome. These contained updates on — among other matters — how his friend and collaborator Sebastiano del Piombo was getting on with a big altarpiece which he hoped, with Michelangelo’s help, would vanquish their joint rival, Raphael. This picture, ‘The Raising of Lazarus’, has been in the National Gallery for almost 200 years now (it is No. 1 in the inventory of the collection). Next March it will be one of the centrepieces in an ambitious exhibition that inaugurates the

Shady past

David Hockney: It is a kind of joke, but I really mean it when I say Caravaggio invented Hollywood lighting. It is an invention, in that he quickly worked out how to light things dramatically. I’ve always used shadows a bit, because that’s what you need below a figure to ground it, but mine are more like Giotto’s than Caravaggio’s. I use shadows that you see in ordinary lighting conditions; you don’t find ones like Caravaggio’s in nature. But there are other varieties of Hollywood lighting. The ‘Mona Lisa’ is one of the first portraits with very blended shadows. That face is marvellously lit, the shadow under the nose, and

Overshadowing all the rest

We don’t know what Caravaggio himself would have made of Beyond Caravaggio, the new exhibition at the National Gallery which is devoted to his own work and that of his numerous followers. But, by chance, we do have a very good idea what he would have said at least of one exhibit: ‘The Ecstasy of St Francis’ (1601) by Giovanni Baglione. Two years after this was painted, in 1603, Caravaggio stated in a disposition to a Roman court that he didn’t know of any other artist ‘who thinks Giovanni Baglione is a good painter’. Very few of Caravaggio’s own words survive, and those that do are mainly in the records

Echoes of Italy

‘Hidden beauty is best (half seen), faces turned away.’ So noted a young English painter named Winifred Knights in 1924. Until recently, the power of her own work has been thoroughly concealed. After her death in 1947, indeed even before it, Knights was forgotten. By the 1950s her reputation had sunk so completely that both the Tate and the Fitzwilliam Museum refused to accept one of her masterpieces as a gift. However, artists who disappear into oblivion are sometimes rediscovered — and that is what has happened to Knights, who is now the subject of an admirable exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery. It is, as the cliché goes, a revelation.

The food of love | 30 June 2016

‘You are the most adorable man and artist, intelligent, gifted, simple, loving and noble… I am really very, very lucky to be alive with you around….’ The relationship between the tenor Peter Pears and the composer Benjamin Britten is part of our cultural and national furniture. A partnership spanning nearly 40 years drove each artist to the peak of his creative and expressive powers, producing works like Peter Grimes, Winter Words and the War Requiem, as well as their definitive recordings. But music is only half of the Britten-Pears story. Before his death in 1976, Britten asked his friend and publisher Donald Mitchell to ‘tell the truth about Peter and

Lives of gay abandon

Somewhere I have a couple of neat letters from the artist Richard Chopping, politely declining my requests to interview him about Ian Fleming. ‘Dicky’ is best known for the trompe l’oeil dust jackets he painted for nine of Fleming’s James Bond novels. Because of this patronage, an accomplished second-division artist gained wider prominence, becoming at one stage, according to the New Yorker, the world’s highest paid book designer. It didn’t make him happy. He was involved in a long, bickering relationship with his fellow artist Denis Wirth-Miller, who was wilder and more experimental, but whose reputation, despite a close working association with Francis Bacon, has not endured so well. Chopping

Best in show | 31 December 2015

Until a decade and a half ago, we had no national museum of modern art at all. Indeed, the stuff was not regarded as being of much interest to the British; now Tate Modern is about to expand vastly and bills itself as the most popular such institution in the world. The opening of the new, enlarged version on 17 June — with apparently 60 per cent more room for display — will be one of the art world events of the year. But, like all jumbo galleries, it will face the question: what on earth to put in all that space? Essentially, there are two answers to that conundrum.