David Hockney Among Friends


By Lester Strong

David Hockney's art is known for its vibrant colors'and its iconic images of naked young men in swimming pools and showers. Viewers attending 'David Hockney Portraits' (June 11'September 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 Angeles'based 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, there'd be a lot made, wouldn't there? I do know I've always enjoyed drawing people. I've never done commissions. I like to record my friends, to see what's going on with them. The Boston show covers 50 years of my portraits, so it has a lot of variety'drawings, paintings, etchings, watercolors, lithographs, photo collages, portraits of individuals and couples.

You've 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?
I've no idea. I'm not one who thinks there's 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 there's one thing worse than homosexual art, it's heterosexual art.' I know what he meant: There's 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. I've always said, 'I'll defend myself. I'm 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 I've lost a lot of friends through death. But I haven't lost friends in other ways. Friends are just too valuable to lose in other ways, aren't they?

'David Hockney Portraits' runs June 11'September 4 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and was organized by 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.