With delicious timing (see previous post) David Hockney has been talking about pleasure ... and smoking.
Interviewed by Geordie Greig, editor of the Mail on Sunday, and featured – smoking – on the cover of the paper's Event supplement ahead of the opening of a new retrospective exhibition at Tate Britain on Thursday, Hockney is as gently subversive as ever:
In his early years Hockney was a vegetarian, like his mother, while his father was a fanatical campaigner for nuclear disarmament and an anti-smoking fanatic. His Methodist mother loved her Bible and her strong faith.
David instead turned to meat, smoking and atheism, always going against the tide. Sitting back, Hockney holds close to his chest his lime-green cigarette lighter as he blows out smoke, and pours scorn on anyone who would wish him to desist to save his life.
‘I can’t stop smoking now. It would give my body a shock, wouldn’t it? All the young think they’re immortal; that’s why they’ll smoke. Of course, I now know I’m not and that I’m going to die.’
At this point he searches for a packet of cigarettes with a diseased lung shown on the packet to deter smokers. He again laughs. ‘They have one photograph of a lung to put you off, but it looks to me more like a roast chicken with carrots. It really does! I’ll show you,’ he says.
More chuckles as he fuses his agitprop argument into art criticism. ‘It’s not so easy to make a horrific image on a small thing like a cigarette packet because every image has to be attractive for you to look at it.
They don’t get that. I suppose the decline of religion might be bringing all this agitation, because I did point out, when they started their Smoking Kills message, Italians had these buildings that always reminded them of death – they were called churches! Death comes to us all.’ More laughter.
So has old age tempered him? ‘In a way I’ve probably got gentler.’ But then he is off again, beating against the anti-bohemianism of the 21st century. His libertarian streak as strong as his father’s intolerance, always the pro-smoking zealot, half cross, half wry.
‘My father would always be worried about smokers, and then go and eat chocolate biscuits in the park, which killed him. He went into a coma because he was diabetic. Every time he went into a coma. He’d already had three, and then had a fourth and went into hospital and died.
'So, chocolate biscuits killed him. Not cigarettes, chocolate biscuits! Not that I would suggest you put on the chocolate biscuit wrappers These Might Kill, because they won’t, just as cigarettes won’t. My father had thought he was going to live to be 100.’
He dismisses those who want to curtail individual pleasure. He once made and wore badges saying End Bossiness Soon. He added the soon in case he sounded too bossy. ‘They just seem to me mean, all these people wanting to destroy some little pleasure for somebody else – why shouldn’t I smoke? I see lots of things like that: destroying pleasure.’
Full interview: Art icon David Hockney on why he’s still laughing and grafting (and smoking) as he approaches 80 (Mail on Sunday).
The Guardian reports that the Hockney retrospective at Tate Britain is the fastest-selling exhibition in Tate's history.