‘Painting, reading and a few nights of nice sex’: David Hockney on his daily life

In behind-the-scenes footage from an award-winning documentary, the British artist discusses how his life is much more sedate than people imagine


"Hockney Unlocked" is a series of 80 short films produced, directed and edited by Bruno Wollheim. The films are outtakes from Wollheim’s award-winning documentary, "David Hockney: A Bigger Picture", filmed single-handedly over five years with David Hockney. Here, Wollheim writes a commentary on some of the short films informed by a friendship stretching back 30 years.

With his Los Angeles office eight hours behind, David liked to refer to living in “Brid”, in Bridlington in East Yorkshire, as “on location”. He had bought the house with his sister Margaret so she could look after their mother, adding a studio in the attic for when he would come to visit at Christmas.

After his mother’s death in 1999, David would visit Margaret and re-acquaint himself with the countryside where he had worked as a farm labourer during the school holidays. His record of that landscape began in earnest during the summer of 2004, in watercolour, the next year in oils. Now it was the summer of 2006 and he had the house to himself (along with his companion and house-keeper John Fitzherbert plus his French studio assistant Jean-Pierre Gonçalves de Lima).

Behind him in this video is the third of four versions of The Road to Thwing (2006, originally the picture and motif was called The Vista).

The image of Hockney as a dandy hedonist is a false one, and one born of mistaking the lotus-eating lifestyle he had depicted, of naked Californian boys by the pool, for his own. In reality, his life is closer to an exhausting Calvinist work ethic. He would point out that he depicted his friends and lovers asleep because they had been out partying and he had been up since dawn.

The Hockney I got to know over the 30 years of our friendship is someone who needs a project, sometimes in the grip of mania and possessed by a determination not to squander his creative gift. He gets on a roll. Towards the end of the Yorkshire project, I received this text: “Have been in bed two days very exhausted, and sleeping most of the time, it’s a pattern in my life. I push myself too much and then just crash.”

Through the camera I would notice Hockney could change remarkably in appearance depending on his mood, the seeming age of his face changing by as much as ten years almost from day to day. He is someone who gains energy through the excitement he gets from his art. As he puts it, “I don’t mind boring others, I don’t want to bore myself.” In this video, David is feeling top of the morning.

I can report that he is a voracious reader, especially of history and biography.

• David Hockney: A Bigger Picture is now available online