As an artist David Hockney is easy to get wrong. For years viewers have responded to the extrovert hedonism of his California pictures, the swimming pools, the sensual lifestyle, the uninhibited colours, the recognisable images. Hockney too has always been recognised as a wonderful draftsman. At a time when some art schools no longer thought that drawing was part of an artist’s necessary repertory of skills. And no-one could ever doubt Hockney’s fluency, prolific nature or his versatility.
You should add his skill as a theatre designer to all of the above. Yet, those three words, fluent, prolific, versatile carry in them a kind of deadly, secret opprobrium. The barely voiced opinion that a truly serious artist wouldn’t be any of these. But Hockney’s rather more than he’s sometimes given credit for. He’s a daring colourist, he’s unashamedly devoted to the image and he’s a restless experimenter.
Thirty years ago he started making pictures out of collaged, cubist- like instamatic photographs. Over the last decade and a half he has worked with digital images, fast painted oils, even faster painted watercolour portraits and of course, his well publicised experiments with what he sees as the medieval painters’ secret weapon, the camera lucida. All this points to someone who is restlessly curious, an experimenter, a challenger of his own assumptions, for David Hockney is his own man. So, was he always like this? And here we are seated in his studio in London .
JT: Were you always like this? What did you learn at art school in Bradford , what did they teach you?
DH: I suppose they taught you to look. I went to art school actually when I was sixteen years old. You could do that then. I left Bradford grammar school and I went to the art school in Bradford and at that time no matter what you were going to do, textile, they had a large textile department, of course in Bradford then, no matter what you were going to do, you did draw from a model actually, which, teaching drawing is simply teaching you to look, actually. You become aware of that eventually. I was aware of that there.
JT: Did you have a good teacher of drawing?
DH: Yes, well the way they teach drawing, or taught it then, you don’t necessarily speak. What er happened was, you would sit round a model, what you call a donkey, you know, and you would begin to draw, looking at the most complicated thing we see, another human being. And eventually after half an hour or so someone would come and sit down, look at your drawing and then start drawing perhaps the shoulder, that you’d been drawing, and you watched. And then you began to see they could see more than you saw. And you realised you weren’t looking very hard.
JT: That sounds like rather good teaching .
DH: Well it is, I mean er, I think you can teach people to draw quite competently, anybody. To draw like you know Picasso or Rembrandt’s something else. But I think um, in a way what they were doing was teaching a craft, and not the poetry, they just accepted you could teach craft actually, which I think is er, perfectly straightforward, you can.
JT: What, you can just discover the poetry later, but you need to know how to do the craft first.
DH: Well you can’t teach the poetry, but you can teach the craft.
JT: What did your parents think? Did they think that er, you weren’t going to get a sensible job if you went to art college?
DH: No, because they didn’t know about things like that. I mean um, actually when I left the Royal College of Art, I said to my mother I was going to do some teaching. She said, oh, are you qualified for that then? Meaning you’re qualified to be an artist. I mean, to be an artist would be a good thing actually.
JT: That was definitely an improvement. They were, they were proud of you that you were an artist? They didn’t think it was odd?
DH: I think my father would have liked to have been an artist, actually. But I think he didn’t quite have perhaps the drive or, I don’t know, I mean he had a family to bring up I suppose. But er, I have a feeling he liked, he liked making marks, looking at things, he took up photography. The first painting I ever sold was a portrait of him, and he thought it was because of him, meaning I could get you another canvas and you can paint me again, whereas I felt well it might be my skills in painting and I mean, er that was, it was like that, but er.
JT: You then got to the Royal College of Art in London and your draftsmanship, your drawing from life classes continued. But did they regard you as peculiar?
DH: Not really. When I was first there drawing was a compulsory part, but at the end of the first year it stopped, actually, then.
JT: But you kept on.
DH: Oh I kept on, I mean I’ve always drawn. I mean if you draw you like drawing, it’s er, an activity you do all the time actually.
JT: Did you ever try the abstract at College?
DH: Yes, I did, I mean I painted er, in a kind of abstract expressionist way, because of course that was exciting. You have to remember, I do remember as a, I was still an art student in Bradford when one saw Jackson Pollock exhibition at the Whitechapel, I think it was ’56 or something like that. And um, I was aware what was interesting there to many people was it was the first exciting painting that didn’t seem to come from Picasso, which therefore was quite big. Remember before that, everything was traceable to Picasso as a dominant thing. Henry Moore was traceable to Picasso, Francis Bacon was traceable to Picasso. Suddenly Pollock appeared not to be, actually he was in a way, even now, but um, so you were excited by that, realising this dominant influence had to be somehow perhaps broken. But it still has to be dealt with of course now, I see that.
JT: But at the time, huge as it was, it didn’t make you think, my god, I have somehow got to work out painting in a Pollock-like way?
DH: No, but one was excited by it, I was. I mean I could see the physical nature of it, the marks and so on, it was exciting. On the other hand, what do you do with it? Er, nobody actually did anything with it, actually.
JT: You know, Bridget Riley also saw that exhibition.
DH: Yes, I’m sure.
JT: And what struck her about it, it moved her hugely, and what really moved her was that she thought it was a heroic achievement, but also a dead end.
DH: Yes, well it is, that’s correct, I think actually, that’s the way I would see it. It was a heroic achievement, yeah, but it is a dead end.
JT: Now, you left the Royal College 1962. In 1964 you went on your first trip to Los Angeles, and one of the reasons you gave was you thought the light was marvellous and you said you realised there were no long shadows in Bradford. This is a wonderful phrase. So was it the light that really took you?
DH: Well, in Bradford I could say I was brought up in Bradford and Hollywood . Hollywood was at the end of the street in a cinema, and I must tell you I did notice, er, my father was a great fan of Laurel and Hardy, well so was I, actually. But I did notice in the films, that even if they were wearing an overcoat, they cast strong shadows on the ground. Well you didn’t do that in Bradford , there were no strong shadows..
JT: Well there was no sun, no sun was there?
DH: That means, that means it was very, very sunny, and I noticed that, even in the black and white films. Shadows sometimes people don’t see shadows. The Chinese of course never paint them in pictures, oriental art never deals with shadow. But I noticed these shadows and I knew it meant it was sunny.
JT: Was it the sun, or the effect of the sun, could be different things, which really drew you to California .
DH: Well it’s the effect of the sun actually. Um, that it was light, what I didn’t know at the time, another thing, I didn’t know this, I also said it was sexy, it was actually, meaning in a hotter place people have less clothes, er and so on, er don’t need an overcoat in LA. What I didn’t know was I was deeply attracted to the big space. I’m a bit claustrophobic, I know that now. Er whereas New York is claustrophobic, LA is big, wide, one storey. The reason LA is very brightly lit at night, if you’ve ever been there and looked down on it, is just one simple reason it’s like that. The street lights are twice as high as the buildings, which they’re not in London, so if on Hampstead Heath you look down on London, you don’t see the street lights. But if you look down on LA from Mulholland Drive or a plane, you do.
JT: So you like the light.
DH: Simp, it’s a simple thing.
JT: You liked the light, you liked the space, you liked the social environment, but did it all add up to personal and visual freedom?
DH: Well I felt freer. I mean remember I’m 24, I felt freer, I felt er England was a bit stifling, boring, it wasn’t there, very free.
JT: The need or the wish to have a degree of sexual freedom, was that as important as the artistic side?
DH: Well, probably, I mean I’m saying that now. Um, I’m sure it was actually. But I was attracted visually to it instantly. Instantly. Um, for instance as you fly in to LA you see all these swimming pools. Now the swimming pool here might look, it’s a kind of luxury, an outdoor swimming pool. But in LA with a climate like that, it’s not. Meaning you can use it all the year. You can’t here so it’s expensive. There, you move into a, a small apartment building, it will have a pool. And you’re paying, I was paying what 90 dollars a month. I was the only person swimming in the pool in January of course, I thought it was terrific, but they thought it was a bit too cold in January, but if you’d just come from England you didn’t think that, but.
JT: The symbol of the, the good life, the soft life, hedonism.
DH: Well er, an artist might be attracted to hedonism, but of course an artist is not a hedonist. He’s a worker, always. That’s er, I might point that out. There’s always a..
JT: We’ll come on to that .
DH: There’s a contradiction.
JT: But hedonism must have been pretty high though, and why not, when you, when you went to California .
DH: Well it, because of the climate, you know, it’s free and easy. Yes, I was attracted to it, whereas London was not like that at that time.
JT: And did you start painting differently, better, as a result of being in this new environment, this new climate?
DH: I was very attracted to its space. First I lived in er, Santa Monica and so on, if you know that bit of LA, everything is straight lines, cubes. It was only later, when I went to live in the Hills, that wiggly lines appear in Los Angeles , whereas it was all straight lines.
JT: But did this grid pattern give you a kind of modernist basis for your painting?
DH: Yes. For instance, nobody had painted LA to me, I didn’t know of any, Paris , London had been painted by marvellous artists actually. LA had not. So, you had a certain advantage there. Paris after all.
JT: What can you say?
DH: Yeah [laugh] So, it was unknown visually, and I was attracted to that. Knowing Hollywood produced pictures, but they too kept it somehow so people thought it could be anywhere. I mean it seemed to me, I realised that was a deliberate thing they do, isn’t it?
JT: And you were unlocking that?
DH: Yes, I mean I didn’t see that I was doing that, remember I’m just painting quietly, I haven’t too much money, I just have a, I pay 90 dollars a month for a small apartment. 80 dollars a month for a studio. I had learnt to drive, bought a car, all within a week actually, meaning well you can do things here can’t you, you couldn’t do that if you arrived in London . I’d never driven before in my life, I mean meaning, well er, in fact it scared me a bit actually, yeah, well they give away the licences easy, and I’m not very good, what’s everybody else like, speeding around, you know. I mean..
JT: I’m going to take you forward from that a bit to one of the dominant media of your life, that is your use of the camera. At the very beginning, and I think you started playing with a camera in the 1970s, why did you do it? Were you trying to fix images in your mind, or what was the attraction of the camera?
DH: Because I’m interested in depiction, representation, therefore you’re interested in photography. You don’t ignore it. What is it? Does the world look like that? Most people think it does, even I did then. But slowly I began to use cameras and then think about what it was that was going on. It took me a long time, I mean I actually played with cameras and photography for about 20 years. It all took me back to the hands actually, that’s what it did, but it took a long time, er.
JT: But at the time, was there any sense that, I mean it wasn’t developing your visual memory was it?
DH: I probably would just take some little snaps at first, but as I began to go into it, I got more and more fascinated, but it took me a long time to understand this, I must say. And remember, I was in Hollywood .
JT: It would have been strange not to use a camera, in Hollywood ?
DH: Well, I must tell you this. When I arrived there, even people there used to say this was a cultural wasteland, and I thought well, some of the great works of art of the twentieth century were made there, actually. Were City Lights, I mentioned, I thought, a lot of them I thought were actually works of art, pictures. They took picture making seriously. I mean meaning there was a side of it. I got to know technical people there, meaning the people who look through cameras, and things, actually making the pictures.
JT: Did that help you change the way in which, how you constructed images, pictures?
DH: Not in the sixties, when I was first there in the sixties, er, I used to go back and forth really. I never had a place, I’d just rent another, it was always easy in LA, just drive round the streets, you’d see for rent sign, it was very, very easy. In London I’d to keep the place in Palace Terrace, you know, you couldn’t come back to London and just see a ‘for rent’ sign there, and do it, so I didn’t get a house till the end of the seventies.
JT: And that was when you produced these large photo collages of a realistic scene, one I remember is the lunch at the British Ambassador’s residence in Tokyo .
DH: Well I started making collage photographs because I realised you could make a different space, you’re putting in time, and they began to be different and you got a different space. I got fascinated by that, actually, and spent a good few months just using, making complex Polaroid photographs, which are far more complex to make than they look.
JT: Oh, I’ve never thought they were anything other than very complicated.
DH: And what was interesting was, I knew it was a bit like drawing and painting. When you began I didn’t know where the edge would be, whereas most people looking through a camera it’s the edge that defines everything, so they grew outwards, it was fascinating, and I realised we see that way, we see in bits. And I realised you could even alter perspective, er.
JT: Because each image gives you rather a different perspective?
DH: Yes, each one is a different one. And I began to be interested in perspective which is a fascinating subject, most people thought it was just in nature, practically, whereas it’s not of course. But it seemed as though photography confirmed western perspective and so on. But actually that’s where it came from, optics, or so I found out later. It wasn’t confirming it, that’s..
JT: But if I can just stay with that photo collage of Lunch at the British Embassy, cos it’s a big work, it must be about eight feet by six feet or something, with a few hundred images, which presumably must all have been taken at one sitting.
DH: Yes they were.
JT: And therefore the question of you putting them together was just extraordinary.
DH: And you think, this is what I thought was happening. You think you are sitting at this table. I knew in any photograph normally, you’re not quite connected with it, there’s a gap between you and the world actually, there’s an edge and that’s what the camera does. I was breaking that, meaning you could decide where the edges were like in drawing or painting. I got fascinated with it. What could you do with it. It led eventually to secret knowledge, it did, that’s where it got me.
JT: Yeah, yeah.
DH: Er, and actually it isn’t the camera lucida that’s old, it’s just the history is of an optical projection, that’s what you begin to realise, meaning a mirror or a lens will give you an optical projection of the world, three dimensions into two. Any maker of images is fascinated by that. Any.
JT: Let, let me just hold you back on the photo collage for a moment, because given how many images there are, in any one of your finished works, it strikes me that this was one of your earliest experiments in forcing yourself to work very fast. I mean we can talk later about your portraits in a, in a day, but if you were photographing people at a lunch you can’t have had more than two or three hours.
DH: You’ve also, well, I, I will point out the difference was you’re forced into using your memory. In the Polaroid, the Polaroid develops as you take it. You see it, and you put it down and I make another and make another. But the moment you use an ordinary camera, you are not seeing the picture, remember, meaning, you had to remember what you’ve taken. Now you could see it of course, with a digital thing, but remember in 1982 you couldn’t. I went to the Grand Canyon, realising ah, the Grand Canyon which I thought was unphotographable meaning its real subject is space and photography can’t show you that, the great thrill in the Grand Canyon is looking into it, the biggest hole in the world’s space. So I went there and I would make elaborate pictures, which meant I had to remember where the camera had been.
JT: You weren’t using a Polaroid for the Grand Canyon thing.
DH: Oh no, no, meaning I’m not seeing the pictures I made, I had to remember where my eye had been, then move it and move it, move it, move it, move it. Okay it’s easy going horizontally, but then when you’ve to go down and underneath, another layer and another layer, your memory has to pick little points. It was no good..
JT: And you only knew when you got back into the studio..
DH: Yeah, yeah.
JT: Whether you’d got it right.
DH: Yeah. For instance, the first photograph I made where I thought I’d got rid of perspective. Remember perspective’s built into the photograph, any photographer will tell you, it’s built into it. I made a photograph of a garden in Kyoto , the Zen garden, which is a rectangle. But a photograph taken from any one point will not show, well it shows a rectangle, but not with ninety degree angles. From one point you can only see it as a rectangle if you move, I realised, er, if you move round it, so I was in Kyoto with a tiny camera in my pocket, a half frame pentax, very small camera. And I realised what you had to do, and I had the, enough film in my pocket, I went there, you have to take your shoes off, that’s why my socks are on the bottom, but I stood on the edge of this rectangle, and I’m looking at the back, and I knew I had to take many more pictures of the back, than of the front, to piece it together. So I actually took all the photographs, made a little diagram on an envelope, I never pieced them together till I was back in Los Angeles , a week or so later. And when I pieced it together I was overjoyed, I thought, I’ve made a picture, a photograph picture with no perspective, I thought, actually then I began to think it was reverse perspective. But this fascinated me, yes it did and er, it eventually made me look at Chinese painting, made me look at Chinese scrolls, made me look at things I hadn’t thought about. Most art historians do not know Chinese scrolls, European’s don’t, because they can’t be reproduced in a book.
JT: Let’s move on, or back to, to painting, and to colour. You said you’re dedicated to the image, that’s obvious. Sometimes it strikes me though that it’s colour and the intensity of colour and blocks of colour that really engage you.
DH: Well remember, instantly in California you’ve got very, very bright light. You’ve got more colour. I mean Van Gogh is a northerner going to the south and he was thrilled with colour. And Matisse was a northerner who went south, thrilled with colour. I was a, suddenly if you look at the California paintings, the colour is different, stronger, you actually see it as well that way. But, I would always be thinking of how pictures are constructed and colour, how to use it, I mean you’re using it for constructing, makes you think about it, the place did as well.
JT: Yes, yes. Because I think sometimes, we assume that the structure of the painting is what matters, whereas what seems to me about a lot of your work, is it is actually the colour which creates the structure and the shape.
DH: Well it’s still the structure, I mean it is the structure of pictures that counts actually.
JT: But it may be defined by a block of colour rather than what an ordinary viewer would call a shape.
DH: Yes. It’s difficult to talk about colour, even remember colour actually.
DH: Well, red, what kind of red, how many can you imagine and so on.
JT: Well perhaps it doesn’t matter if you can’t remember.
DH: Remember black and white photography had been dominant. Photography was all black and white then. Most films were, television was. Colour didn’t come in, on television until the seventies, early seventies.
JT: But you’re still searching for colour today aren’t you, and I think the interesting thing seems to be that you now react to a different palette of colours, you like the colours of the English spring and autumn, you’ve gone to Norway for a different kind of intensity of colour.
DH: Norway, I must point out was just because, having lived for 22 years in California, when the sun is low in the sky in California, within 10 minutes it’s gone. In Norway , because you’re way in the north, and when the sun is low in the sky, it stays there for six hours actually, from nine pm to 3am, you get long, long shadows, that last for six hours there.
JT: Ah, those shadows.
DH: And last a very short time in Los Angeles . I was thrilled by that actually, in Norway .
JT: So there’s a different kind of intensity to the light, which was attracting you there?
DH: It was light. I was very, I mean there’s no-one up there in Northern Norway , food’s terrible, but it’s very, very beautiful to look at, if you’ve got eyes, and enjoy looking. And as I say, er I knew about, I’d watched sunsets in California , I used to have a little house on the beach and watched it over the sea.
JT: Did you ever get tired of them?
DH: No. You get tired of pictures of them, but nature, never, never let’s you down, it’s not a cliché, nature isn’t a cliché, pictures might be, but you can get tired of pictures, yeah.
JT: No, back to the question of working hard, which you’ve said more than once. Here we are in your studio. It looks a pretty tidy studio, to me. Is tidiness and order er necessary for you?
DH: Er, just unusual cos I was away for the last two weeks.
JT: So it is usually less tidy than this?
DH: Well there would be lots of pots usually, yeah, although er, there’s always an order in a studio. It might, whatever it looks like to somebody else, it will always be in order to me. So even if it looks messy it will be ordered to me, it’s ordered now, but it’s actually nothing out there. In fact, I’m a bit of a slob, but I’ve always said my excuse, I have a higher sense of order, I can see it where others can’t. That’s my excuse for slobbery, I must admit, but I think it’s a good one.
JT: How does that fit in though with the hard work?
DH: Most artists work all the time, they do actually, especially good artists, they work all the time, what else is there to do? I mean you do.
JT: Well some artists have a rackety lifestyle don’t they?
DH: Yeah, I mean I’ve never been interested in, much in the politics of the art world, it doesn’t interest me. Of course going deaf, you put off that as well. But yeah, I think artists do, I mean every good artist I know, I always think works hard, we’re working all the time.
JT: Are you quiet when you work? Do you talk to yourself?
DH: I never work with music. I hate background music, always did. I only like music in the foreground, meaning, deliberately listen to it, actually. I like silence, er as I’m going deaf it doesn’t matter. If you like music you like silence actually. Once you start painting, you could of course get lost. I mean you get out of yourself, you don’t know whether you’re thinking, you just act actually sometimes, um
JT: Sort of subconscious, instinctive?
DH: Yeah. Well lately, it’s when you’re doing marks like this, but I think that’s always the case actually.
JT: Do you find that paintings come out differently, do they always come out differently from the way you think they would when you start?
DH: Yes, they do sometimes, but I mean, I must point out this. Some artists you know might find a certain way of working and work with that way and you develop it, you can be subtle with it, you can do variations on it and so on. Actually I’ve never done that. I’ve always been er, actually, how do I look? what do I see? how do I see? how can you represent this? show the excitement, does the world look terrific? yes, I think so, I like looking at it, and so on. That’s what I explore.
JT: So do you take yourself by surprise? In the course of working?
DH: Sometimes. I wouldn’t have known I suppose totally when I began the research on secret knowledge where it would take me, I didn’t know. But it did always take me into interesting areas and as I say eventually back to the hand, because you understand what the photograph is finally. You don’t know that at the beginning remember. And people often would be criticising you, what are you doing wasting your time doing that? But of course I could always ignore that, I was always confident enough to ignore that really.
JT: Say a little bit more about that period of your life, when you thought you’d established, perhaps you had, to your satisfaction that the secret of a certain kind of immediacy and accuracy of line in paintings from the fifteenth century was because they used an optical lens, the camera lucida.
DH: I began to see my eye, you see it was actually the Ingres exhibition here. I looked at those drawings, I’d admired those drawings all my life, but I hadn’t actually seen many real ones and how small they were. I was struck by how small they were.
JT: And you thought there was something suspicious about them.
DH: Well, how does your hand move, work, slightly bigger than that if it moves round, if you think about it, and it isn’t suspicious. I mean er, unfortunately people misunderstood what I was saying, meaning, unfortunately “New Yorker” started, ‘did the old masters cheat?’, which unfortunately is a very childish view of it, meaning as though tracing was simple, er straightforward, any child could do it, which of course they can’t, that is not true.
JT: As if an oil painter using a stick to rest his hand on, is somehow cheating.
DH: And I had, did know, of course, that Chinese art that was very sophisticated never dealt with shadows, it does not have shadows in it. Why? Because probably they think, everything is a shadow. But, you then realise optics need shadows. Because it needs strong light. And as I began to see it, I realised, my god, they were looking at these, and the moment you make an optical projection yourself, which you’ve got to do, of course, it’s quite simple.
JT: And which you did.
DH: And which I did, and the moment I looked at them, you knew they’d looked at them. They do things for instance, they’re very beautiful, you are fascinated by them, just as a person is fascinated by the TV image which is an optical projection of nature, isn’t it? It’s just not very true necessarily of what’s in front of it, like they claimed. But, I was thrilled to look at them. I touched them. You wanted to touch them. Where does this colour come from?
JT: This is the colour coming through the lens, projected onto a piece of paper.
DH: Yes, yes, are we dealing with a mirror, you know, you can do it with a, ah, and they’re beautiful. Very beautiful.
JT: But when you did this yourself, did it make you draw better?
DH: I wasn’t concerned about that at that time.
JT: But isn’t that the point?
DH: It might be, but at that moment, I was too fascinated. I knew people had been looking at these long before photography, d’you see. That is the important thing. Long, long before 1839, 500 years before.
JT: Did you enjoy teasing the art historical establishment because a lot of them got, got quite cross about it, and some thought they’d disprove what you’d done.
DH: To be honest I was a bit shocked at their reaction. Shocked because I thought they obviously don’t know what the hand does. They don’t have experience of it. I was shocked actually. Ah, I told some of them, I think you’re not actually understanding. And let me point this out. If you look at the chandelier of Mr & Mrs Arnolfini, nothing like that had ever appeared in a picture before. How would you account for it? Well as somebody said to us in Ghent , when we were saying, there are three ways how Van Eyck made that picture, er that chandelier. Absolute genius that suddenly he could see this, drew it like that, painted it like that. And we think it’s very realistic today. Absolute genius. The second could be a manual on perspective, looking at object, drawing that, but there was no known manual in 1430 like that. The third is a device. There were devices at that time. How come the art historians all choose number one?
JT: Because there’s no documentary evidence for the existence of the device, I imagine.
DH: The picture itself is a document. How do you mean? We’re looking at a document. It gives you clues, you see what I mean?
JT: Yes, yes.
DH: I’m rather shocked by what I thought was simple mindedness actually. I thought they’re not looking, they’re not actually looking. They’re looking at something else. I’m looking at how was this made.
JT: What did you get most from this exercise, cos we could go on and on about it, and we, we, we shouldn’t, but what did, did you gain anything as an artist, from this period of exploration?
DH: It is complicated. You had to be aware that I saw that photography was a mere episode in the history of the optical projection and when the chemicals ended, meaning the picture was fixed by chemicals, we were in a new era. And actually it related to the time before the chemicals, to see how you construct a picture. That’s happening now, I’m well, I’ve pointed out, secret knowledge was not about art history, it was about now, it’s what’s going on now, meaning I didn’t care what the art historians said either. I mean their ignorance is, I mean actually a lot reacted with me.
JT: Yes, yes.
DH: I must point out, they did.
JT: But you said that you ended up at the end of this process, realising that er drawing, painting, the human creation of the image, rather than a photographic creation or manipulation of the image was what really matters and is what..
DH: The human view of things.
JT: The human view of things.
DH: The human view of things. For instance, you see, we all know a mirror reflects us, if you look in it. If you move, the reflection moves. If you project from a mirror, meaning it will project an image, it’s nothing to do with you. The world seen by nobody.
JT: And painting is the world seen by..
DH: A human being.
JT: A human being, yes.
DH: A human account of looking at the world.
JT: Yeah, and that is now more valid than ever?
DH: Oh yes, oh yes. Much more valid than ever. I think now people are much more questioning of photography and truths, er than they were, because they see how they’re made. But remember, er, great claims are being made for the photograph as truth. We are showing you things, we show you the war. I say you can’t actually. The camera can’t. I think this is very big, you might think it’s small, but I think it’s big.
DH: And I know it is actually.
JT: I think it’s very big. I want to get you to, to as it were place yourself in contemporary art, art history. Now we know, you’ve always said that the pop label was nonsense, nothing whatever to do with you, um, and not relevant to what you did. Would you call yourself a modernist in any way?
DH: Well. Of course I, you just give it, coming out with labels which, I must admit I don’t spend much time thinking about. Modernism in a way, early modernism, for instance, in pictures, was turning against perspective and Europe . And all early modernism is actually from out of Europe, when you think of cubism is African, is looking at Africa, Matisse is looking at the arabesque, Oceania . Europe was the optical projection that had become photography, that had become film, that became television and it conquered the world, and they think it’s ..
JT: You can, you can sing quite happily in that world and those definitions?
DH: Oh yes, oh yes.
JT: Now, the other thing. You said if there are people in the picture, then it’s not just lines. And I wonder whether it would be right to call you, more than anything else a humanist?
DH: Er, without form, there’s nothing there. It’s like the Chinese, they say, for painting, for a work of art you need three things – the hands, the eye and the heart. Two won’t do. And I think that’s absolutely true.
JT: Is that a definition of humanism?
JT: Not quite, but perhaps close enough.
DH: No, I don’t know. Um ..
JT: I’m trying to get your involvement in humanity and the, the things and the people that you, that you paint. It seems to me that you’re very close to them. And you’ve ducked the word humanism twice, that’s fine. I wonder if you’re going to duck it a third time?
DH: Because I know what it means historically.
JT: So you don’t want to, as it were, adopt it now?
DH: Let’s put it this way. Cézanne, we began to see is giving us an account of his seeing, with his doubts about places. Where was that position, where was that, as he looks, now he doubts that, he puts that in, in a way he is seeing honestly, psychologically. The camera sees geometrically. We don’t.
JT: Is it, is it the doubting, is it the doubting that you admire?
DH: Yes, it was. That’s what everybody admired. Er.
JT: Yes, but is this a important part in yourself?
DH: Well, we too, you know, put your hand there, look with one eye, look with the other, it relates differently. Is this, this is to do with you, the way you’re looking. You are not looking at a picture of so and so, you’re looking at Cezanne’s account of seeing them. Whereas, other painters, covered up their marks, you were not. You were looking at telling you, they were looking at, well television will tell you you’re looking at reality, not somebody’s choice of it.
JT: You said recently, and this is really the end of the story, your return to the image and so on. You said, I will show you what painting can do. Is that a battle cry for the future?
DH: Well that’s what you’ve to do, meaning, I realised what’s happening with photography. Photography’s changing. The digits are a profound change. The hand is actually being brought back into the camera. Er, meaning it’s going towards painting. The problem is, photographic dyes and printing inks aren’t as good as paint, actually.
JT: It’s a revalidation of what you’ve been doing all your life.
DH: I mean I think probably something big can be done with cameras, I’m not saying, er, I’m saying chemical photography’s finished, that means you can’t have a Cartier Bresson again, you need never believe pictures. I mean, meaning, we’re in, we are in a new era with it, and nobody’s discussing it too much yet, because there’s vested interests actually. I realise that.
JT: You’ve been discussing it and you’re demonstrating it. So I think we’ll end it there. David Hockney, thank you very much.
ASX CHANNEL: DAVID HOCKNEY