Book review: 'David Hockney: A Rake's Progress' provides a bright bit of fun short on authenticity
Here in Warhol country, David Hockney is often regarded as the other platinum blond pop artist to emerge on the international scene in the second half of the 20th century. But with an enormous exhibition of his work currently touring Europe and a beguiling new two-volume biography, Mr. Hockney, now 74, is busy crafting what may well prove to be the more exalted and enduring reputation.
Author Christopher Simon Sykes gives the first half of Mr. Hockney's life (1937-75) a glib and glossy treatment in volume one that is well matched to the artist's own style, with colorful, careful placement of select details on an impenetrable surface.
Nan A. Talese/Doubleday ($35).
It's all very pleasant, filled with merriment and glowing testimonials to the artist's "cheekiness," "mannered wit" and "extraordinary talent," but it is also very carefully controlled in its presentation of the subject; devoid of revelations and insight, and possessing only the merest whiff of criticism to balance the accolades.
David Hockney was the golden boy long before he colored his hair in response to a Lady Clairol ad suggesting "blondes have more fun." From the very beginning, he has led a charmed life. One of five children in a working-class Yorkshire family, David alone was permitted to pursue art for art's sake, while his siblings were directed into the commercial application of their creative talents. As a student at the Royal College of Art, his "cheerfully disrespectful" manner got him into trouble with the administration, but he graduated nonetheless with first class honors and a coveted gold medal, which he accepted in a matching gold lame jacket.
From there he progressed to swinging London, sublime Paris, and sunny, freewheeling California, where he reveled in the excesses of the Embarcadero bath scene in San Francisco and the physical culture of toned young surfers in Los Angeles, and emerged miraculously unscathed by the ravages of AIDS. Along the way, he swept his art-world and high-society friends along on numerous adventures that Christopher Isherwood called "Mr. Whizz's tours," always conducted "very much on David's terms."
"David Hockney: A Rake's Progress" is just such a tour; a bright bit of fun that visits all the famous sites without ever providing an authentic, behind-the-scenes view. The author frankly acknowledges that Mr. Hockney's participation was predicated on the understanding that the artist would set the rules, and the result is therefore a rather flat, idealized portrait of the subject as he wishes to be seen. But, as Mr. Hockney's friend and lover, Gregory Evans, observes, "In the end it is the David Hockney show, and that's the way things are."
First Published July 1, 2012 12:00 am