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David Hockney: The Biography, 1937-1975

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Drawing on exclusive and unprecedented access to David Hockney’s extensive archives, notebooks, and paintings, interviews with family, friends, and on Hockney himself, Christopher Simon Sykes provides a colorful and intimate portrait of one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century. Born in 1937, David Hockney grew up in a northern English town during the day Drawing on exclusive and unprecedented access to David Hockney’s extensive archives, notebooks, and paintings, interviews with family, friends, and on Hockney himself, Christopher Simon Sykes provides a colorful and intimate portrait of one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century. Born in 1937, David Hockney grew up in a northern English town during the days of postwar austerity. By the time he was ten years old he knew he wanted to be an artist, and after leaving school he went on to study at Bradford Art College and later at the Royal College of Art in London. Bursting onto the scene at the Young Contemporaries exhibition, Hockney was quickly heralded as the golden boy of postwar British art and a leading proponent of pop art. It was during the swinging 60s in London that he befriended many of the seminal cultural figures of the generation and throughout these years Hockney's career grew. Always absorbed in his work, he drew, painted and etched for long hours each day, but it was a scholarship that led him to California, where he painted his iconic series of swimming pools. Since then, the most prestigious galleries across the world have devoted countless shows to his extraordinary work. In the seventies he expanded his range of projects, including set and costume design for operas and experiments with photography, lithography, and even photocopying. Most recently he has been at the forefront the art world's digital revolution, producing incredible sketches on his iPhone and iPad, and it is this progressive thinking which has highlighted his genius, vigor and versatility as an artist approaching his 75th birthday. In this, the first volume of Hockney’s biography, detailing his life and work from 1937 - 1975, Sykes explores the fascinating world of the beloved and controversial artist whose career has spanned and epitomized the art movements of the last five decades. "The timing couldn't be better for this enjoyable and well-sourced book, which — like Hockney's own work — is both conversational and perceptive." —Los Angeles Times "To read Christopher Simon Sykes' David Hockney is to marvel at the artistic gifts of the eccentric Yorkshireman who rose from a sometimes pinched childhood to hobnob with poet Stephen Spender and novelist Christopher Isherwood, to party with Mick Jagger and Manolo Blahnik." —The Plain Dealer "Prodigiously entertaining." —Financial Times “A chatty, knowledgeable, insider's biography, full of anecdotes.” —The Guardian  


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Drawing on exclusive and unprecedented access to David Hockney’s extensive archives, notebooks, and paintings, interviews with family, friends, and on Hockney himself, Christopher Simon Sykes provides a colorful and intimate portrait of one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century. Born in 1937, David Hockney grew up in a northern English town during the day Drawing on exclusive and unprecedented access to David Hockney’s extensive archives, notebooks, and paintings, interviews with family, friends, and on Hockney himself, Christopher Simon Sykes provides a colorful and intimate portrait of one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century. Born in 1937, David Hockney grew up in a northern English town during the days of postwar austerity. By the time he was ten years old he knew he wanted to be an artist, and after leaving school he went on to study at Bradford Art College and later at the Royal College of Art in London. Bursting onto the scene at the Young Contemporaries exhibition, Hockney was quickly heralded as the golden boy of postwar British art and a leading proponent of pop art. It was during the swinging 60s in London that he befriended many of the seminal cultural figures of the generation and throughout these years Hockney's career grew. Always absorbed in his work, he drew, painted and etched for long hours each day, but it was a scholarship that led him to California, where he painted his iconic series of swimming pools. Since then, the most prestigious galleries across the world have devoted countless shows to his extraordinary work. In the seventies he expanded his range of projects, including set and costume design for operas and experiments with photography, lithography, and even photocopying. Most recently he has been at the forefront the art world's digital revolution, producing incredible sketches on his iPhone and iPad, and it is this progressive thinking which has highlighted his genius, vigor and versatility as an artist approaching his 75th birthday. In this, the first volume of Hockney’s biography, detailing his life and work from 1937 - 1975, Sykes explores the fascinating world of the beloved and controversial artist whose career has spanned and epitomized the art movements of the last five decades. "The timing couldn't be better for this enjoyable and well-sourced book, which — like Hockney's own work — is both conversational and perceptive." —Los Angeles Times "To read Christopher Simon Sykes' David Hockney is to marvel at the artistic gifts of the eccentric Yorkshireman who rose from a sometimes pinched childhood to hobnob with poet Stephen Spender and novelist Christopher Isherwood, to party with Mick Jagger and Manolo Blahnik." —The Plain Dealer "Prodigiously entertaining." —Financial Times “A chatty, knowledgeable, insider's biography, full of anecdotes.” —The Guardian  

30 review for David Hockney: The Biography, 1937-1975

  1. 5 out of 5

    Suzanne

    Is there any idea in painting that David Hockney didn't have first? Chock-a-block with details, this book is only part one (of two, one hopes). Is there any idea in painting that David Hockney didn't have first? Chock-a-block with details, this book is only part one (of two, one hopes).

  2. 4 out of 5

    Phil

    The life of David Hockney has been as fascinating, varied and brilliant as his work, with which it is inextricably intertwined. This biography offers an introduction to some of this excitement and complexity, up to a point. Indeed, up to several points. The first of these is chronological. In order to maintain, I assume, some kind of unity between the dates of pictures and the biographical episodes with which they are linked, Sykes is frequently unclear about precisely when certain events took pl The life of David Hockney has been as fascinating, varied and brilliant as his work, with which it is inextricably intertwined. This biography offers an introduction to some of this excitement and complexity, up to a point. Indeed, up to several points. The first of these is chronological. In order to maintain, I assume, some kind of unity between the dates of pictures and the biographical episodes with which they are linked, Sykes is frequently unclear about precisely when certain events took place, preferring to maintain a clearer narrative link than exactitude might deliver. This makes it difficult sometimes to place particular work historically, and if, like me, you are cross-referencing pieces mentioned but not included in the plates with reproductions in another book, some confusion necessarily ensues. I also wonder if the portrait of the artist isn't a little over-reverential. I don't, of course, know David Hockney, and from interviews, films, and his own writings I'm happy to infer that he's a very nice man. But I think there can be little doubt, to judge from the evidence of his very public career, that he's also extremely good at managing and manipulating his own image, and his very early success alone should be enough to demonstrate that he's always been a very canny businessman. There's none of this in evidence. My third gripe is the rather rushed way in which this volume is finished. Since it was published in 2011, a full 36 years after the last of the events it describes, I feel it could be a bit more considered in its final chapter about what Hockney's work at the time would mean for his future - it's not as though an art biography needs to keep its reader in suspense. All that said, this *is* an enjoyable and insightful story. I particularly appreciated the chapters on the genesis of my favourite Hockney painting, the double portrait "Mr & Mrs Clark & Percy", which encapsulates much about the artist's life in the 1960s-70s, as well as demonstrating his preternatural knack for catching mood, personality, and narrative in a single picture; also the background to Jack Hazan's film "A Bigger Splash", which has perplexed, infuriated, and enlightened many of its viewers since 1974 - including, apparently, Hockney himself !

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ronan Mcdonnell

    I couldn't wait to finish this book. I became far too invested in it. After one meat-heavy meal, I went to bed that night and spent the entire night somewhere between sleep and being awake, utterly convinced I was Hockney and wanted to draw instead of sleeping. I draw for work anyway, and the early chapters rang true with echoes of my own college experiences to an extent. But far beyond all that is the easy manner of the text. It is exhaustive in its telling, but charms and beguiles with its ease. I couldn't wait to finish this book. I became far too invested in it. After one meat-heavy meal, I went to bed that night and spent the entire night somewhere between sleep and being awake, utterly convinced I was Hockney and wanted to draw instead of sleeping. I draw for work anyway, and the early chapters rang true with echoes of my own college experiences to an extent. But far beyond all that is the easy manner of the text. It is exhaustive in its telling, but charms and beguiles with its ease. It's wonderful. It does however, from a vantage point of time and space conjure up a number of elite & closed social circles. Hockney's luck was to enter these from his celebrated London beginnings. His star could not but rise. He was everything these circles needed. I don't say this with any jealousy, his work more than deserves celebration; simply put, it is interesting how the upper echelons of money and culture mix. If you're in, you're in. That was perhaps the most revealing part of the book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ruth Brumby

    I enjoyed this book at the beginning for its linking of life stages and events to particular works. As I read on I began to find the gossipy, name-dropping style rather trying. There is some writing in this biography, comparing the making of the film 'A Bigger Splash' and Hockney's depiction of couples in portraits, about the responsibilities involved. It must always be difficult to write a biography of a living person. I found this one to be a bit sycophantic. Its focus on the details of 'beautif I enjoyed this book at the beginning for its linking of life stages and events to particular works. As I read on I began to find the gossipy, name-dropping style rather trying. There is some writing in this biography, comparing the making of the film 'A Bigger Splash' and Hockney's depiction of couples in portraits, about the responsibilities involved. It must always be difficult to write a biography of a living person. I found this one to be a bit sycophantic. Its focus on the details of 'beautiful boys', pornography, luxury, gossip and drugs seems superficial and even titillating. I would have liked a different life writing approach - more objective or more involved.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mason

    A fascinating look at the first 38 years of Hockney's life. Though a little heavy on detail, the biography reveals an artist keenly aware of the power his gaze held and unafraid to speak his point of view. A fascinating look at the first 38 years of Hockney's life. Though a little heavy on detail, the biography reveals an artist keenly aware of the power his gaze held and unafraid to speak his point of view.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nola

    I really enjoyed Christopher Sykes story on David Hockney, now just need to find part 2.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Julie H.

    The book's acknowledgments outline the rules of engagement between author and subject: "He would talk to me in his time, not mine, and he would authorise the book, but not endorse it" (p. xv). Thus begins the first of what is doubtless a two (or more?)-part biography chronicling the life and work of 20th-century artist David Hockney. Sykes provided what I found to be interesting insights and backstory to the life and work of this artist. He likewise appears to have been given remarkable access t The book's acknowledgments outline the rules of engagement between author and subject: "He would talk to me in his time, not mine, and he would authorise the book, but not endorse it" (p. xv). Thus begins the first of what is doubtless a two (or more?)-part biography chronicling the life and work of 20th-century artist David Hockney. Sykes provided what I found to be interesting insights and backstory to the life and work of this artist. He likewise appears to have been given remarkable access to friends and family for interviews as well as access to personal correspondence, Hockney's mother's journal, and similar useful resources. As a consequence the reader takes a somewhat voyeuristic stroll through Hockney's life, work, and loves--tracking the artist and his output from his somewhat austere origins in post-war Bradford with deeply-religious parents through the heady days of the 1960s and 1970s when Hockney broke onto the art scene out of the Royal College of Art and began being shown at London's Kasmin Gallery (in 1963) and in short order burst onto the world art stage. At times the book felt overly-gossipy to me (e.g., the identification of a particular Guinness heiresses whose use of LSD meant she missed a pretty spectacular party at Glyndebourne due to being zonked out in the bushes). My point being, I'm not quite sure what singling her out did to help the reader contextualize Hockney's remarkable scene designs for A Rake's Progress. Thus, if I could request any sort of clarification from the author it would be to explain how some people are little more than gossipy footnotes whereas others are dealt with far more sympathetically (e.g., Hockney's heroin-addicted associate Mo, who--despite his addiction and willingness to work through some 200 bottles in Hockney's wine cellar--still manages to deliver the goods on projects time and time again). As just an interested lay reader, as opposed to someone with actual art historical expertise, I found that this biography made me quite interested in seeking out Hockney's work in museums. I have a whole new appreciation for his masterful ability to incorporate photography, lithography, and xerography into his paintings. And the fact that he even successfully tackled set and costume design a time or two was likewise enlightening. Through detailed accounts told from multiple perspectives, Sykes' biography is effective in situating Hockney's work and mental state. Nowhere did I feel more for him than when the dissolution of his breakup with Peter Schlessinger is documented in a movie titled A Bigger Splash (which Hockney had been led to believe was to be a documentary about art)--and then the movie is selected for critics week at Cannes! Talk about making your most painful experience public. What was so revelatory here, however, was Hockney's realization that as painful as the film was to him, that he could no more ask or expect another artist to destroy his work than he could--or would be willing--to do the same upon demand from someone else. For me, this was one of the first times he got enough out of his head to be a truly sympathetic human being--as opposed to simply a supremely talented artist. All told, I found the human interest and art historical sides to be in reasonably good balance. Given the relative thoroughness of the book's index, however, an appendix containing a list of his completed works might have made a nice addition. (Doubtless, such exists elsewhere and Sykes was intent on delivering something new.)

  8. 5 out of 5

    Grace

    Fascinating biography of an artist that I greatly admire. Sykes certainly had access and carefully attributed his quotes. Sykes put together a coherent and compelling story. I knocked off a point because he was sloppy with the details about Colorado on page 161*. I know Boulder and Colorado geography & history well and Sykes got them horribly wrong. That led me to wonder how much else he got wrong. After that, I took everything with a grain of salt. It's a great story, though. It's not just about a Fascinating biography of an artist that I greatly admire. Sykes certainly had access and carefully attributed his quotes. Sykes put together a coherent and compelling story. I knocked off a point because he was sloppy with the details about Colorado on page 161*. I know Boulder and Colorado geography & history well and Sykes got them horribly wrong. That led me to wonder how much else he got wrong. After that, I took everything with a grain of salt. It's a great story, though. It's not just about art and artists. The beginning of the biography, dealing with Hockney's parents, show just how much human potential is wasted by the English class system. Both of his parents were exceptionally intelligent and principled human beings and it was painful to read how classism and sexism limited their options. The part about how his mother was harrassed out of a job as a patternmaker because her skill threatened a more senior employee was heartbreaking. His first purchase when he earned enough to live on as an artist, plus a little bit extra, wasn't something for himself. It was a new sewing machine for his mother. His parents started him along the path to his signature style. His dad showed him how to find quality fabrics and construction (albeit in garish patterns and rejected by other customers) in thrift stores. His mom sewed clothes for their entire family. I didn't realize he was such a trailblazer in human rights for gays. Growing up in SF, I took gay rights for granted and didn't pay attention to the struggle. The poignant story about the breakup with Peter S is a universal one of love not fully appreciated until lost. Really, really well-told. * Central City is no where near Aspen if you bother to check a map of Colorado. There ARE Indians/Native Americans within 300 miles of Boulder.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jena

    Esta es una biografía bien documentada y meticulosa del pintor inglés David Hockney. DH, nació en 1936 y estudió en el Royal College of Art. Desde la primera colectiva en que participó "Young Contemporaries", se le reconoció como un magnífico dibujante que buscaba un estilo propio. Al finalizar la década de los años 60 ya era conocido en E.U. e Inglaterra como un gran pintor de la corriente llamada "Pop Art", en donde también fueron clasificados como tales a Robert Rouchenberg y Frank Stella, en Esta es una biografía bien documentada y meticulosa del pintor inglés David Hockney. DH, nació en 1936 y estudió en el Royal College of Art. Desde la primera colectiva en que participó "Young Contemporaries", se le reconoció como un magnífico dibujante que buscaba un estilo propio. Al finalizar la década de los años 60 ya era conocido en E.U. e Inglaterra como un gran pintor de la corriente llamada "Pop Art", en donde también fueron clasificados como tales a Robert Rouchenberg y Frank Stella, entre otros muchos. Su gusto por la vida en el estado de California lo hizo establecerse en el lugar hasta el año de 1991, cuando regresó de nuevo a Inglaterra. De su estancia en California quedó su serie de acrílicos conocidos como de las albercas. En el mismo lugar creó una serie de retratos de sus amigos, en donde el de Ossie y Celia Clark se distingue por su colorido y manufactura. Estos retratos y algunos de sus dibujos para escenografías para ópera, pudimos verlos en aquella exposición que se presentó en el Museo Tamayo en 1995. La biografía comprende únicamente de 1936-1975, por lo tanto, en ella no se habla de su voluminosa serie de paisajes que hizo en el año de 2006 para la exposición de la Royal Academy of Art, de los cuales pudimos ver únicamente el majestuoso "Bigger Trees Near Warter", en la colectiva "Landscapes of the Mind", Paisajísmo Británico, Colección Tate, que presentó el Museo Nacional de Arte en junio del año pasado.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Doubleday Books

    "Energetic, absorbing ... Sykes skillfully integrates Hockney’s private history with his public, artistic life to provide unusual insight into both his emotional and professional life." —Publishers Weekly "Intimate, vivid ... A personal, lively look at this extraordinary artist’s career. Readers will eagerly await the second volume." —Kirkus Reviews "Prodigiously entertaining." —Financial Times “A chatty, knowledgeable, insider's biography, full of anecdotes.” —The Guardian “Christopher Simon Sykes is "Energetic, absorbing ... Sykes skillfully integrates Hockney’s private history with his public, artistic life to provide unusual insight into both his emotional and professional life." —Publishers Weekly "Intimate, vivid ... A personal, lively look at this extraordinary artist’s career. Readers will eagerly await the second volume." —Kirkus Reviews "Prodigiously entertaining." —Financial Times “A chatty, knowledgeable, insider's biography, full of anecdotes.” —The Guardian “Christopher Simon Sykes is quick to blow away the cobwebs in his biography, the first of two volumes, pointing to Hockney's trailblazing status. This is…an exhaustive and authoritative telling of the Hockney story.” —The Independent “Certainly the most moving and amusing account of the most popular British artist of the 20th century. [David Hockney] bounces along as the rebellious, eccentric, funny artist discovers sex, then London, and so on to fame and fortune, via California. Sykes elicits marvellous background details and anecdotes… The wit, energy and magical talent of Hockney to use whatever happens to him to his purpose and for humour are shown on almost every page.” —London Evening Standard

  11. 5 out of 5

    Eric Scharf

    I have always enjoyed the work of David Hockney and welcomed the opportunity to learn more about him. This biography, while at times a bit gossipy, was a well written summary of the first part of his prolific and creative lifetime. It was also interesting to read how he was so comfortable being out about his sexuality at such an early age, setting a wonderful example for people coming after him. I am looking forward to the second installment of this biography.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Gregory Marris

    A rather gossipy account of the early years of an artist I greatly admire. Quite an amazing period during London's "swinging" years when it was at the height of it's modern influence in art, music and fashion. This biography gave some insight into the life of Hockney and at least inspired me to pursue more of the life and works of this talented artist. A rather gossipy account of the early years of an artist I greatly admire. Quite an amazing period during London's "swinging" years when it was at the height of it's modern influence in art, music and fashion. This biography gave some insight into the life of Hockney and at least inspired me to pursue more of the life and works of this talented artist.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Howells

    The first of a 2 volume biography, it takes the story from birth to 1975 (and a very debauched evening at Glyndebourne). It's a well illustrated book (although frustratingly doesn't include every picture it writes about) and a surprisingly quick read...if and when the 2nd volume appears in paperback I'll snap it up. The first of a 2 volume biography, it takes the story from birth to 1975 (and a very debauched evening at Glyndebourne). It's a well illustrated book (although frustratingly doesn't include every picture it writes about) and a surprisingly quick read...if and when the 2nd volume appears in paperback I'll snap it up.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Beverly

    I got through nearly 100 pages of this glorified gossip column before giving up. I guess I wanted a critical biography, but this isn't it. DH sounds like a nice, upbeat guy though, bu you can probably tell this much by looking at his work. I wanted more. I got through nearly 100 pages of this glorified gossip column before giving up. I guess I wanted a critical biography, but this isn't it. DH sounds like a nice, upbeat guy though, bu you can probably tell this much by looking at his work. I wanted more.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Patty

    Interesting book. Like many biographies, the story of his emergence to fame and accomplishment was the most interesting. It's disappointing that the book only goes through 1975. Interesting book. Like many biographies, the story of his emergence to fame and accomplishment was the most interesting. It's disappointing that the book only goes through 1975.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

    What a charmed life he has led!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lynne

    A fascinating look at the life and work of a great creative mind. I will definitely read part 2 if and when it is written.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Shearchmit

    Great book

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jmolentin

    Very interesting but not exciting. Good to have the background on one of my faves

  20. 5 out of 5

    Elaine

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ellen Kubo

  22. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mina

  24. 5 out of 5

    Gary Stavella

  25. 5 out of 5

    Matt

  26. 4 out of 5

    Dave Pescod

  27. 4 out of 5

    Natalie

  28. 4 out of 5

    Karl Maier

  29. 4 out of 5

    Geena Hardy

  30. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Livick

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