life of David Hockney

When a gallery owner who was organising a group show asked the artists to reveal the source of their inspiration, David wrote: “I paint what I like, when I like, and where I like”.

Over the holidays my husband and I had the chance to visit two David Hockney exhibitions, one at Bozar in Brussels and the other at Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. No way denying the importance of this 84 year old lad. A living legend. Bozar was a mix of his earlier works, some of which were new to me, and a selection of his recent “Normandy 2021” spring iPad prints. The Orangerie solely focused on “A Year in Normandy”. During the pandemic Hockney has been painting the surroundings of his Normandy home. The difference between the Brussels and Paris exhibit was that the Orangerie depicted the paintings in a flow, as if it were just one work, like the tapestry of Bayeux or a Japanese print roll, both of which inspired Hockney. The Paris paper was breathtaking!

Being a young gay men in the 80s I found inspiration in books (Stephen Spender, David Leavitt, Hervé Guibert, …) and visual art (Mapplethorpe, Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, David Hockney, …). Even today, thirty years later, they are close to my heart, because as gay artists they gave me a lot of inspiration.

This is a novel. All facts are true, but I have imagined feelings, thoughts, and dialogue. I used intuition and deduction rather than actual invention. I sought coherence and connected pieces of Hockney’s life puzzle from what I found in many sources – autobiographies, biographies, interviews, essays, films, and articles. This portrait reflects my vision of David Hockney, even if it was he, his work, his words that inspired me. I hope the artist will consider this an homage.

Besides the catalogues of both exhibitions I bought the biography “Life of David Hockney” by Catherine Cusset. I love reading (auto)biographies and memoires, but Cusset took the genre into a new direction. I felt like David was the protagonist of a novel written by someone else. I have never met Hockney, but Cusset made me feel Mr Hockney like someone I knew very well. And his paintings are clearly a memory of his life. This book felt like some paintings coming to life.

He had begun another double portrait, of Ossie and Celia, who had just got married because Celia was pregnant. It would be their wedding present. Ossie is sitting on a modern chair in a nonchalant pose, his cat on his lap, while Celia is standing next to the open window in a long, dark dress, her hand on her waist thickened by her pregnancy, next to a bouquet of white lilies. The phone on the right is white, too, as is the balustrade of the balcony and the cat, and all that white infuses the painting with a softness, refecting that of Celia. David wasn’t able to paint Ossie’s feet and hid them the plush of the rug. He also had trouble with Ossie’s head. He kept doing it over without being satisfied, probably he wasn’t satisfied with Ossie himself, who was taking more and more drugs, becoming increasingly unstable and was treating Celia badly.

Loved the way how Cusset is reinventing biographies. And apart from getting context in and understanding about the artist, I had the feeling I got to learn to know the person David better. Family seems to be very important for Hockney. Family being his actual family, his gay friends and his sex dates. Worth considering his views on (open) relationships:

Gregory didn’t like the new arrangement, and David had to remind him that they had an open relationship, which Gregory couldn’t deny since he had taken advantage of it. “But not at home, not under your nose!” his lover exclaimed. “It doesn’t make any difference”, David replied,  somewhat dishonestly. But he was sincere when he begged Gregory to accept a situation that in no way diminished the strength of their bond. He loved him, they worked together, the were both travelling on the same path, pointing to the same future, a future that was indeed assured them by the pact they had made, basing their relationship on a more solid foundation than carnal desire.

“Life of David Hockney”, Other Press or “Vie de David Hockney”, Gallimard by Catherine Cusset.

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