A brief encounter with David Hockney

I am writing this because some time ago Hockney, a devoted smoker, reported to the press that he thought smokers might be less likely to become infected with Coronavirus.  

I think it was 1970 give or take a year.  Most probably 70 as that was the year of my 21st birthday and I think this encounter was in the same year.

It was a hot day in Soho and I was idly looking out of our shared bedsitter in Newport Place and saw somebody that I was sure was David Hockney. Easy to identify really with his mop of blond hair.  He was perusing the window of the newsagents across the road.  This newsagent, as well as the usual papers and magazines, sold a selection of soft porn for all tastes from its top shelves. 

Whatever Hockney was doing there really is neither here nor there.  Seeing him gave me the rather bold idea of inviting myself to tea.  I just happened to have his address and telephone number as my friend Anthony Everitt teaching in Foundation Studies at Birmingham College of Art and Design had taken a group of students to see the artist in his studio.  The address was 17 Powis Terrace. Notting Hill.  I was bored and it was a kind of listless afternoon, hot and a little overbearing.  London is not always great in really good weather.  I spurred myself on to visiting the artist.  I knew he quite like the formality of the British teatime so I decide to ask to come to tea.  Hockney was a little taken aback I think by my call.  I had explained how I had his address and phone number and kind of apologised for my cheek in requesting to visit. He was very affable  and asked me to come around explaining it would only be tea and this would be of limited duration.

With some difficulty I found Powis Terrace.  It was some small distance from Notting Hill Gate tube station.  I was surprised to see that the area was quite run down.  The large late Victorian houses had obviously seen better times.   No 17 was a three storey stucco clad affair, quite large.  The stucco and paint were tired to say the least.  By now I had developed some trepidation. Made my self ring the door bell and was greeted by large friendly black woman with a Caribbean (probably Jamaican) accent.  She told me to go up to see David on the first floor.

The door was opened by another guest and the whole room was immediately in view.  The artist was sitting by a huge glass coffee table, the glass being very thick, over an inch in depth.  I am sure this was the table that features in Hockney’s painting of Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell.

The table was busied with the tea time paraphernalia – at least two teapots, white china and white boxes.  The boxes turned out be boxes of cigarettes form Sullivan and Powell. One of them had the name of Khedive.  I did try one with my lapsang souchong tea.  I realised somehow that I would be seen as some kind of mere provincial worshipping at the altar of an important artist. Hockney was very charming and convivial though especially as I had the impertinence to ask for this impromptu visit. There were others in the room, I hadn’t been introduced to all of them. One guy was on the telephone I think to New York, certainly the US.  The telephone was in on of those egg shaped booths, gunmetal grey with a metal perforated interior. I think I only stayed for about 45 minutes.  Glad I was brave enough to do it.  Think the occasion slightly altered my outlook on life, basically towards the notion of “just do things as you like to do”, don’t  worry about the others.

About Richard Stokes

Richard Stokes. Childhood spent in Milford-on-Sea. Now lives in Bridport (recent move). Educated in Art Schools - Winchester, Birmingham and Portsmouth. Worked as art administrator: Ikon Gallery, Birmingham; Midland Group, Nottingham; West Midlands Arts, Birmingham; Gateshead Garden Festival; Arts Council; Minories Art Gallery, Colchester; West Midland Arts. Also involved with the former Limpets Restaurant. Keen sailor.
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