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David Hockney - A Rake’s Progress

by Kay Bourne
Contributor
Tuesday May 1, 2012
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Some years back, in 1995, a Picasso retrospective toured to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Before visitors to the galleries could enter the galleries to see wonderful samples from his Blue Period, his Rose Period, and so forth from this important modernist and abstract painter, you were met with a gripping figurative self-portrait done when the artist was a teen. Anyone looking at this stunning work knows instantly that this young artist is extraordinary wherever his skill and talent takes him.

The comparable figure painting in British painter David Hockneys’ career, who, like Picasso, wanted only to draw and paint from earliest childhood and was iffy when it came to academics, is an oil on canvas of his dad, "Portrait of my father" done in 1955, also as a project to do with getting into an art school and also painted when the artist was a teen.

To see that painting is to know, as with Picasso, that whatever twist or turn this genius at the canvas takes, you will more than bear with him whether for the graffiti grotesque "Doll Boy" 1960 or much later for the disturbingly placid swimming pools of Southern California.

Now the most popular British painter of this era, as Picasso is the towering figure of the last century in painting, the visionary painter Hockney, born July 9, 1937, while already the subject of many scholarly bios, is sure to have important retrospectives coming up.

In that light, Christopher Simon Skyes (known for his bio of the musician Eric Clapton as well as articles on architecture and social history) has embarked on a two-book intimate portrait of this amusing and extraordinary artist, the first volume of which is "David Hockney/ A Rake’s Progress" (Doubleday, 2011). The title refers to a production of the Stravinsky piece that Hockney, an opera lover from youth, did the sets for and, of course, to Hockney himself and his life.

A thorough ’leave no stone unturned’ venture into Hockney’s family and early years, the book will grab you the way the portrait of Hockney’s father does. It illuminates the man who does the painting: A man who is openly gay and has known he was from early on with happy sexual experiences as a boy scout and being groped in a cinema; A man who wants to paint and that’s about it; A man who has political views very much his own as did his eccentric father; A man who has a wonderful sense of humor and enjoyed socializing with his peers in painting, Andy Warhol for one.

With this artist’s bio Skyes has done the near impossible: Enable you to see Hockney’s work through Hockney’s eyes as well as through your own.

by Christopher Simon Skyes

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