David Hockney, O.M. C.H. R.A. is possibly the greatest living English artist and is considered a ‘national treasure’. A painter, draughtsman, printmaker, stage designer and photographer he has been a major presence on the art scene since he first caught the public’s eye when taking part of Young Contemporaries Exhibition at the Royal College of Art in 1962 (who subsequently initially refused to let him graduate). His move from his dull northern hometown of Bradford to the bright sunshine of L.A. just two years later was a major turning point and where this quiet Englishman found happiness and his metier. It was also where he found the first of many bottles of peroxide for his hair.
Hockney’s life has been examined many times previously but this new documentary by filmmaker Randall Wright, who’s previous subjects have included Lucien Freud and the ubiquitous Sister Wendy, is probably by far the most definitive. Helped by the fact that Hockney gave him unfettered access to his vast personal treasure trove of archives which included some great footage of home videos and a seemingly less collection of photographs, it gives such a full picture of the great man and his life.
The charismatic Hockney made great friends of other famous artists on so many levels and those still living gave a fascinating insight into their friend and peer. Particularly touching was an interview with Don Bacardy who spoke of the time that a very young Hockney turned up on his doorstep of the Hollywood home that he shared with his lover Christopher Isherwood. Hockney had been openly gay since his Royal College days even though homosexuality was still illegal in the UK, but this was the first time he had met a partnered couple and it was quite a shock for him.
Hockney’s sexuality was an important element of both his life and his work as the public first discovered with his acclaimed ‘Bigger Splash’ series of pictures that featured his young naked lover Peter Schlesinger that started making waves in and out of his pool. An obviously highly emotional man, a fact that is no where more apparent than his moving account of the impact of AIDS in the ’80s which so decimated his circle of friends and acquaintances.
Wright expertly weaves his film back and forth from Hockney’s childhood in a post-war Britain still rationing its food, to his current sojourn in his beloved Santa Monica home where at the age of 77 although painfully deaf, he is still working on new pieces of art. The ‘journey’ in between shows a man obsessed with his art and bent on continually exploring new techniques and ideas that are very uniquely his own. His famous ‘polaroid’ pictures of the ’80’s have progressed into a whole new wave of art he now makes on his Ipad.
It is undoubtedly a wonderful gush-free tribute to this iconic artist and quintessential Englishman who up to a couple of years ago was still living part of his year in the bracing seaside town of Bridlington. What it lacks however is any mention of Hockney’s personal life after his tempestuous relationship with Schlesinger decades ago. All mention of Hockney’s later relationships, including one with John Fitzherbert that lasted over two decades, were completely omitted which seems odd given the importance that Hockney places on his close friendships.
(*C.H. = Companion of Honour, and O.M. = Order of Merit both extremely high honors that are awarded by The Queen)