In a rare in-person interview, the best-known British-Born artist of his generation gives his take on the importance of friends, male eroticism, and 50 years of portraiture.
David Hockneys art is known for its vibrant colorsand its iconic images of naked young men in swimming pools and showers. Viewers attending David Hockney Portraits (June 11September 4 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art) will see both, along with his signature portraits of family, friends, and lovers. At his hotel suite during a recent stay in New York City, the British-born, Los Angelesbased artist was nattily dressed in a sports jacket, slacks, and tie. His shirt was brightly colored with horizontal stripes that looked as though they could have been painted on the fabric by Hockney himself.
Why do you paint portraits?
To paint my friends.
What makes a portrait by David Hockney a Hockney portrait?
How do you make a memorable image? If we knew, thered be a lot made, wouldnt there? I do know Ive always enjoyed drawing people. Ive never done commissions. I like to record my friends, to see whats going on with them. The Boston show covers 50 years of my portraits, so it has a lot of varietydrawings, paintings, etchings, watercolors, lithographs, photo collages, portraits of individuals and couples.
Youve never been shy about being gay, either personally or in your art. Aside from subject matter, do you think being gay affected your art stylistically?
Ive no idea. Im not one who thinks theres something you can label gay art. I remember in the early 60s I was with a friend at an exhibition in London containing paintings of girls legs. This friend stood looking at the art and said, David, if theres one thing worse than homosexual art, its heterosexual art. I know what he meant: Theres only art.
Do you think your art has contributed to a greater openness for gay images and gay culture in mainstream culture?
It might have. I do know even early in my career I was painting males as sexy, erotic figures at a time when it was mostly females who were portrayed like that. But the influence that might have had is not a topic I think about too much.
Has your work contributed to the greater acceptance of gay people socially over the years?
Possibly. Ive always said, Ill defend myself. Im not speaking for others, but I will speak for myself and defend my way of life as well. Possibly that had an effect.
Could you say a bit more about painting your friends?
What people viewing the show will see is that over the years my friends have stayed the same. New friends come in, and Ive lost a lot of friends through death. But I havent lost friends in other ways. Friends are just too valuable to lose in other ways, arent they?
David Hockney Portraits" runs June 11September 4 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and was organized the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the National Portrait Gallery, London, in collaboration with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. For more information, visit LACMA.org.