The following is from "A Visit With David and Stanley: Hollywood Hills, 1987," from the book "David Hockney: A Retrospective," organized by Maurice Tuchman and Stephanie Barron. To be published in March by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Harry N. Abrams Inc. Copyright 1988 by Museum Associates, LACMA. Reprinted by permission.
A retrospective of David Hockney's work is on exhibit at the Los Angeles Museum of Art until April 24. IT WAS A typical visit to David Hockney's studio: The still-young, not- that -young artist utterly engrossed in and possessed by some new passion, relentlessly pursuing it through all its myriad permutations. Hockney is an awesome worker: The sheer amount of his production--its variety and the density within that variety--is staggering. And all the more so because that sheer intensity of labor runs so contrary to his public persona as a ubiquitous society presence, an endlessly vacationing, lotus-languid bon vivant.
As I moved him away from the force field of his photocopying machines and over to a set of easy chairs in the studio's mid-court, he said, "I don't really care what people think. . . . There are certain advantages to people's not taking you too seriously."
"Well, think of it the other way. If you're taken very, very seriously, you run the risk of becoming bogged down in another direction which I wouldn't like. One's freer this way. I mean, I take my work seriously, I don't take myself too seriously, but if you spend your whole life doing it, you're obviously taking it seriously in a way. You don't choose to do all that work as a mere dalliance, as nothing at all."
He went on to point out how, for instance, some people, observing his photo albums, imagine he's on vacation all the time. "The thing is," he said, "that's what makes those albums utterly ordinary. Everybody's photo albums document them with their friends and when they go on holiday. People don't spend much time photographing the street they live on. Although, actually, my back yard has been the subject of most of my work. People see me as some sort of hedonist because I always seem to be portraying either my California home or my various travels. But I never traveled out of boredom or the need for new impressions. I've always realized that the bored person will be bored anywhere. The reason I moved from one place to another was to find peace actually, peace to work. It was the nattering that usually got me down. I fled for peace and quiet in each case.
"That's why I settled here in California in 1979, for that matter," he continued. "It suits me here. You can live more privately here than anywhere else and yet still be in a city. In a way I moved here for the isolation."
It's not just the locales portrayed that often give people the wrong impression about Hockney's intentions. "I mean," he continued, "it's like people say, 'Ah yes, you paint swimming pools.' But I must admit, I never thought the swimming-pool pictures were at all about mere hedonist pleasure. They were about the surface of the water, the very thin film, the shimmering two-dimensionality. What is it you're seeing? For example, I once emptied out my pool and painted blue lines on the bottom. Well, now, when the water's still, you see just clear through it, and the lines are clean and steady. When somebody's been swimming, the lines are set to moving. But where are they moving? If you go underneath the surface, no matter how turbulent the water, the lines are again steady. They are only wriggling on the surface, this thinnest film. Well, it's that surface that fascinates me, and that's what those paintings are about really."
Spend any amount of time with Hockney, and you quickly realize that he's an intensely cerebral artist, extraordinarily well read and deeply involved in that reading and extraordinarily thoughtful in those terms about the wider implications of his artistic endeavor. He is endlessly struggling with issues of representation, perception, reality, world view, the transcendence of constrictions. Curiously, however, most of those implications pass most of the fans of his art right by. What makes Hockney such an iconic presence in contemporary popular culture, it seems to me--all the Hockney posters on living room walls, the Hockney reproductions on the jackets of novels and the covers of records and so forth--is the sunny benevolence of the subject matter and the unfailingly endearing charm of its rendering. I asked Hockney whether he ever became bothered by the misreading--or anyway, the half-reading--of his work. "I suppose even in the experimental work I have to do it in a charming way," he replied. "That's just my personality. I can't not do it that way. When people say, 'Ah, but, it's much too charming,' I don't really care, because I know something else is going on as well."