‘When I’m working, I feel like Picasso, I feel I’m 30’
By Tim Lewis
David Hockney wants to tell you a joke. A man goes to a doctor and informs him that he wants to live the longest life possible – what should he do? The doctor asks the man to list his vices and then he says: “Right, I want you to give up smoking, I want you to give up drinking, I want you to give up rich food, I want you to give up sex.” The man is shocked and mumbles: “OK. Will I live longer?” The doctor replies: “No, but it’ll certainly seem that way.”
As he delivers the punchline, the 77-year-old Hockney howls like he’s heard it for the first time: a throaty roar that culminates in a hard-earned smoker’s wheeze. We are sitting in a pair of paint-spattered armchairs in the studio annexe of his house high in the Hollywood Hills. He spends most of his days in here. It has everything he needs, not least a few gallons of mineral water and a stash of 2,000 Camel Wides cigarettes, just in case Los Angeles is hit by an earthquake.
Arriving at the house, zipping up the twisty roads from Sunset Boulevard, dodging garbage trucks bombing down the other way, it is impossible not to be overcome by deja vu. Long before Google Earth, Hockney depicted these hills in absurd oranges, greens, blues and reds in landscapes such as Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio, 1980. Now I’m here, what I had taken for a hyper-real acrylic fantasy turns out to be disconcertingly realistic, another example of Hockney’s gift for capturing some essence of wherever or whomever he paints.
The house, which Hockney bought in the late 1970s, is tucked behind utilitarian grey gates that give little hint of the wonderland beyond them. Once inside, the land drops into a jungle of exotic ferns and palms down to the famous swimming pool at the bottom. A harsh sun flickers off iridescent cerulean and pink paint. Artist Howard Hodgkin once said the house was “as romantic and artificial as I had hoped” and it is. But today all is peaceful and a smattering of leaves on the pool’s surface hints at sporadic use. It might have been a while since wild parties raged into the night or naked bodies hauled themselves on to the hot stones at the water’s edge.
“I don’t go out, I hardly ever leave here,” admits Hockney, as we take our seats in the studio. He is dressed as plainly as his forbidding gates – dark grey cardigan, slate-grey pinstripe trousers and ….