Entertainment :: Fine Arts

Queen Elizabeth Elevates Artist David Hockney

by Steve Weinstein
Contributor
Friday Jan 6, 2012
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British artist David Hockney was one of only two people named to the Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth II in her 2012 New Year’s Honors (or, to use the Queen’s English, "Honours") list. The other recipient is John Howard, Australia’s second-longest serving prime minister. (As the head of state for Australia, the queen can grant knighthoods and other honors in that continent.)

At age 74, Hockney is enjoying the kind of recognition that comes with a lifetime of achievement. The Royal Academy in London is mounting a major retrospective of his works. The art critic for the (U.K.) Daily Telegraph, in reviewing the exhibit, called him "Britain’s greatest living artist," which he probably is, with the recent passing of the only other person who could have aspired to the title, Lucien Freud.

Hockney is also making news for a pointed jab at another near-legendary British artist. The Montreal Gazette reports that, in the glow of his elevation by the queen, Hockney made sure the poster for his Royal Academy show noted, "All the works here were made by the artist himself, personally."

That was widely taken as a reference to Damien Hirst, who admits he "outsources" his work when he gets bored. Hockney, according to the newspaper, has freely admitted the reference.

Unlike Hirst, Andy Warhol or Jeff Koons, Hockney is strictly Old School. When he met Marc Chagall’s granddaughter, she told him the great Russian-French painter in his old age just wanted to paint. "Well, of course, what else would you want to do when you’ve done this all of your life?" he told her. "When you are older, you realise that everything else is just nothing compared to painting and drawing."

Hockney began his career in the then-new medium of photo collage. Born in the English county of Yorkshire, he spent many years in Los Angeles, where his unique style of cool blues and bright yellows became refined in a series of paintings of California swimming pool -- sometimes decorated with a beautiful naked young man.

In 1974, Hockney was the subject of a documentary film, "A Bigger Splash," named after one his paintings. He has gone on to fame designing operas for the Met in New York and for British companies.

It is notable that the queen offered Hockney a knighthood in 1990, which he turned down. He has been with professional chef John Fitzherbert for over 20 years.

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early ’80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).

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