Book review: David Hockney: The Biography, 1975-2012

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 November, 2014, 11:15pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 November, 2014, 11:15pm

David Hockney: The Biography, 1975-2012
by Christopher Simon Sykes
Nan A. Talese/Doubleday

More than halfway through the second volume of his vivid, intimate biography of David Hockney, Christopher Simon Sykes describes the moment in the 1980s when the British artist discovers the creative possibilities of the photocopy machine.

Hockney loves the density of copier inks - "the most beautiful black I had ever seen on paper. It seemed to have no reflection whatsoever, giving it a richness and mystery almost like a void," he says.

Sykes, who wrote the book with Hockney's co-operation, picks up the story of this astonishing artist in 1975, when the working-class boy from Bradford, England, has already won acclaim for his paintings depicting the bright light, azure skies and swimming pools of his adopted city of Los Angeles.

Even greater success lay ahead, including a major retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1988 and a blockbuster show in 2012 at the Royal Academy in London of landscapes he made after moving back to Yorkshire in his late 60s.

Chapter by chapter, the book unfolds as a series of love affairs, in which the workaholic artist falls madly in love with a new art-making medium - fax machines, Polaroids and iPads, to name a few - puzzles over its problems and potential, masters it and moves on. Always, he returns to painting and drawing. "He'll work until he drops," says Henry Geldzahler, a former Metropolitan Museum curator.

It's instructive to see Hockney's reaction to the work of other greats such as Picasso and Vermeer: like that of an awe-struck schoolboy. A Monet show in Chicago "made me look everywhere intensely. That little shadow on Michigan Avenue, the light hitting the leaf. I thought: 'He's made me see it.'"

Sykes has an engaging style and an enviable ability to write clearly about art but he should have eliminated the cliches, repetitive language and trivial details that bog down the otherwise illuminating diary passages he uses to tell the story of this remarkable man.

Associated Press