David Hockney is an artists with a considerable international reputation. He was born in Bradford, Yorkshire, in 1937, and studied there and later at the Royal College of Art. He has not had his work on show in London for some time – his last show was in May this year, in New York. He has told us that, as a result of the large number of gay papers available in the States, the young American male is much less hung-up about his own possible gayness, or anyone elses. After a year of Gay News here, who knows?
DL You used to be involved with GLF for a while – what attracted you to that?
DH Curiosity, that’s all really! Actually, there was no real involvement; I just went to one or two meetings out of curiosity, and I don’t suppose I will get involved too much. I would regard it as too time consuming when I would rather allocate my time out to my own work. I just assume that the other people would like to spend their time doing that – everybody’s to have something to do – so I don’t feel too guilty about not being involved too much. I don’t know if I’m an absolutely liberated person – I don’t actually know what one means by a liberated person. I suppose there are still things about me that even close friends wouldn’t know. That of course must be true of almost anybody, whether one likes the situation or not.
DL Do you think that gays need liberating?
DH What I was really getting round to saying, I suppose, was that we nice that people might have some mystery – the only kind of people who would disclose everything to somebody is probably when talking to an analyst or someone like that. There’s no real need to – but I might be wrong, there might be some people who always feel that need to tell. In fact you do meet a lot of Americans who tell you their life story in 15 minutes, tell you what they like, how they feel, and things like that.
DL You spend a lot of time in the States – is them any particular reason why?
DH I used to. I lived in California for about 5 years. I went because I thought it would be very sexy and it was! Los Angeles was, anyway – a vary very kind of sexy city, I think and a very gay city……
DL When I came to see you before you talked about American sex. What did you mean by that?
DH Well, I did talk about various things to do with American life – or American sex-life – that I rather disapproved of. In some ways I feel that it is rather segregated, which is a pity. But after having been in New York for a month I think maybe it’s slightly breaking up. If you go in the gay bars you see more girls around which might be a sign of it not being quite so uptight as it was. I put that down to the fact that Americans liked everything segregated. I don’t think we do that as much in England, we don’t go in for cutting off various groups in quite the same way. The Americans tend to remake their ghettoes pretty quickly in just another way, that’s all. It would be a pity if that happened here.
DL A club in Manchester recently stopped allowing girls in, making it into a completely male homosexual club. Can you see any reason for this? It seems very illogical.
DH It does seem odd to me, I mean, it seems odd to get hung up about it. I don’t see why they would care really. I always thought it was the old homosexuals who were a bit like that, and at parties, men didn’t like girls there…….mind you, I hardly know any girls – I don’t know why I’m defending them. It’s just that I don’t see any reason to get hung up about it, and it seems somewhat a narrow viewpoint to take. I mean, in a club!……..I could under stand it in a bath, maybe. But in a club, where the main purpose is to be social as well, one assumes people aren’t really just fucking in the middle of the floor! I don’t see why they should get hung up about it – I certainly wouldn’t care. Do you think it’s wrong?
DL I do, because in Manchester and the North, even though the more radical gays could still call them ghettoes, they’ve always seemed much freer and more relaxing than elsewhere. A reversal of this policy just doesn’t make sense.
DH It’s just what one observes. Have you ever been to New York?
DL No, not yet.
DH Compared to London……well, for instance, there must be now, literally hundreds of gay bars. And in Greenwich Village….I think what they’d have to do now is have a straight guide to Greenwich Village. They’d need a little guide to find a straight place. But, whilst on the surface it appears quite……thrilly and marvellous at first, but yet, when I kind of analyse it a little a watch it, a lot of it is very sad, because, of course a lot of people are very sad people. Which makes me think maybe its not so good.
DL Whether they’re gay or not?
DH That’s really nothing to do with it, really…. but in a way there’s something new happening. I know people in New York who want to live alone, and they get their sex by going to the baths or just nipping out and picking up – which is very easy, you know. Literally, you seem to go to the street corner, just nipping out, picking somebody up, and then having the sex reasonably quickly – and that’s it. But they really want to live alone in their place. Now that, I must admit, I don’t quite understand. It’s not a thing I particularly want to do myself, but obviously some people do. Now it seems to me there’s more and more like that, so it’s obviously getting to be a common taste with certain soups of people. The newness about it is that they are open about it, they don’t hide their desire to live alone and do this. Some people said to that they didn’t really want a kind of lover, somehow they wouldn’t like somebody living with them. Well, I find that just a little difficult to understand. I’m not condemning it, I’m only saying that for me I’d feel a necessity to have a little bit more out of something than that. That’s just my particular desires and tastes, I suppose.
DL Do you think this is just New York?
DH It’s probably very American – I’m sure California’s just the same. Probably it’s partly to do with the ease with which you can pick somebody up. If it’s easy then they always know, “Oh well, I want some sex now, so I’ll go to the corner.” Because it is so easy I suppose more and more people are thinking “That’s the best adjustment I could make, that’s the best I could get out of life”, and if that is is the case then it seems to be a wise thing to do. But when I was trying to observe it and understand it I found it a bit difficult – I mean I know I’m rather an incurable romantic, really, my views of thing tend to be romantic, even when I sometimes know they shouldn’t be, when me movie really have a certain amount of discipline in a view I still have a natural inclination to take a romantic view. But then I might be a more complicated person than other people – I obviously am a little more complex so that might account for me having seen some of it as rather empty. But if people can’t see it’s emptiness, well, then it’s not particularly empty for them. Maybe that’s my hangup, but I’m not sure. I think maybe we should question a few people like that and ask them – find a person who is extremely promiscuous in that way.
DL In a place like the Colherne – you’ve been there sometimes, haven’t you?
DH Extremely rarely now. To be quite honest I think Ive been twice in the last eight years. Not too frequent! I think I went not too long ago, but only because I was with someone who particularly wanted to go. But I don’t go out of any choice.
DL It’s a very segregated pub.
DH I must admit it’s very rare I go in pubs. I usually just go in them if…….if I feel thirsty. I have a drink and then leave. I mean, I’m not really a pub person, I don’t sit in pubs much. I prefer sitting in a restaurant or somebody’s room or house or whatever.
I’m not really and expert on gay pubs at all. The only gay place I go quite often is the “Yours and Mine” – not that I go in there much. I might go twice or three times in a month, which is more frequent than the Colherne! Otherwise my life’s a lot more domestic, not too much in public, although it used to be more so. I suppose that really depends on economic circumstances – probably, doesn’t it?
DH It’s certainly one reason (it’s nothing to do with gay life, but….), why in Paris are cafes enormously popular. People tend to live in very small apartments and they don’t entertain in them much – so they entertain their friends in the cafes. Because they do that, there’s one on every corner. I mean, when I was a student and I lived in a room, and everyone else I knew lived in a room, one wasn’t particularly keen on just sitting in. It was often nicer to sit in a bar, because would be more commonable. So then I did go to pubs, but now I don’t. But I like that kind of life on the continent, I mean, I love those cafes in Paris and I live sitting in them. But it’s different from pubs – you sit outside, you watch the world go by a bit more.
DL But do you think that gay people are beginning to accept themselves more than they did before, or do they still think of themselves as outcasts, like much of heterosexual society sees them?
DH From my experience of gay people I certainly think they have a lot less hangups. Although I must admit I don’t know too many closet queens really, so maybe I’m not really an equipped guide. And again, in the world I move in, there’s really no need for people to be closet queens. I do admit in some worlds, as you must know, it’s easier than others, easier to be honest about oneself because you know a lot of people aren’t going to care, and usually the more intelligent the people around you are, the less they care about something like that, so you cna be quite open about it.
But…….well, I can remember when I was an art school at Bradford, my masters were all about fifty-five and I was, seventeen, eighteen? And I must admit I wouldn’t have liked them to know too much there. Mind you, it was a very small art school. I was always a bit frightened. But later on when I was a student at the Royal College of Art I realised, will, you just face it and then you don’t have to care. For a while, in fact, you take the opposite view, you say, you know, fuck you, and you flaunt it. I suppose that’s a natural kind of thing to do.
DL But is it natural for all gay people? Most people, especially gay people, still try to suppress whatever they are.
DH No, that’s not true. I think it’s probably most other people as well, I think the problem isn’t just a gay problem – I’m sure most people would suffer from it a little bit. Often they wouldn’t admit their real desires, would go along – suffer along a lot. Probably the reason why divorce rates are higher now is simply that people are a little more honest about themselves. And partly through economic circumstances – if one has to spend an incredible number of hours each week working and you don’t get too much for it, then obviously you can’t spend a lot of time worrying about things like that. One tends to put up with what you’ve got, tends to accept it. Obviously that is changing now, people are not willing to put up with just what they’ve got, they want a little bit more. There’s a desire for liberation, but I would think that effects everybody. Now, now instance, you can read in the New York Times that the average marriage in California lasts about seven years, and it’s dissolved – now for all we know that might be the perfectly normal time for a couple to have a relationship. Of course, in a straight marriage there is the problem of children, and how you deal with them, which probably isn’t resolved too well at the moment.
The interview ended here as David was already late for an appointment when I arrived.