by director Randall Wright
I once walked with David Hockney from his London studio to a nearby pub. Stopping for a moment he delicately picked a small flower while at the same time maintaining a firm grip on a thick smoldering Camel cigarette. Standing motionless, he ‘scrutinized’ (a favourite word this) the flower for several seconds. “I haven’t seen that shade of blue for years,” he said. Hockney seeks to capture David’s playful delight in the depiction of all that holds his eye.
For David the pleasure of looking and depicting what we see is a fundamental expression of being human, perhaps even a survival mechanism, an attempt to make sense of the mystery of what it is we actually see. “Someone told me they had ancestors from the seventeenth century, well I said I go a lot further back than that, I think some of my ancestors were cave artists.” Throughout his career David has had at least two caves—Los Angeles (Hollywood) and his English home county Yorkshire (Bradford and Bridlington). Hockney is the story of his constant work to make powerful pictures mostly in those two, key places.
I first came across his work as a teenager in the book David Hockney by David Hockney, which appeared on the library shelves of our school in 1976. The virtuoso drawing in it, the scrutiny, still astonishes me. And the charm of his playfulness and clarity of expression with—make no mistake—an underlying toughness. In the 1960s journalists asked him about being ‘working class’ or ‘queer.’ “I’m not working class, me, I’m first class” was his standard answer. Hockney considers life to be a gift, and he wants to see the world for himself, and represent it his way.
If there is any explicit message in his work, it is to encourage us to look at the world for ourselves. Like many great artists he wants to reach beyond the issues of the day, to make the ordinary extraordinary. Even when using the iPad David keeps faith in the hand, eye and heart, the essential transmitters of emotional truth.
My film Hockney also aims to mirror David’s refusal to follow any typical career pattern. The film editor Paul Binns and I took as our model the painting Mulholland Drive, as a non-literal representation, and avoided a linear or literal chronological structure, taking advantage of the protean variety in his work.
In addition to the many famous examples of his painting and drawing, crucially for this film, Hockney, who had a life-long fascination with cinema or what he insists on calling ‘the pictures,’ gave permission to use his many unseen experiments with film and video archive, as well as many of his own early still photographs. The film is built from magical samples of this work, and his many appearances in documentary footage in cinema and television. Plus, of course, our own footage exploring landscapes and interviewing his close friends.