In a new four-part docu-series – which concludes Melvyn Bragg‘s long running stewardship of The South Bank Show – the two old friends speak about Hockney’s career, the future, his relationships and some of the moments that have come to define his life.
Conversations between Hockney and Bragg, filmed over 12 months in both London and at the artist’s Normandy studio, have been cut with archival footage and commentary from distinguished Hockney fans to construct a full picture of the octogenarian’s astonishing life.
“David Hockney is one of the most remarkable artists this country has ever had,” said Bragg. “In his mid-80s he’s still working flat out, and he’s had over 400 exhibitions. This celebration brings the essence of that together in what we hope will be a defining programme about David’s work and his ideas about art.”
But this is no rose-tinted retrospective. Hockney is adamant he is “just getting going”, and given that he’s had three solo shows in 2023 alone (Lightroom’s David Hockney: Bigger & Closer (not smaller & further away); The Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo’s David Hockney; and David Hockney, Drawing from Life at the National Portrait Gallery) he’s clearly not slowing down.
The series has pulled in good reviews on the whole, with the FT saying, “there is more than enough first-hand insight and analysis here to inspire a deeper dive into Hockney’s world”, and with the Times adding that David Hockney: A Celebration is “about as life-affirming as television can get”.
The Mail gave the show four-stars, and focused on the artist’s chain smoking habit: “Hockney lives in France, thank goodness. If he’d tried lighting up in front of a film crew in his native Yorkshire, someone might have turned a fire extinguisher on him.”
The four-part series will conclude Melvyn Bragg’s hosting of The South Bank Show, which has been one of Britain’s best-known arts and culture programmes since 1978. Launching on ITV, the series moved over to Sky Arts in 2010 after 736 episodes.
“There are other things I want to do and I think it’s about time,” said Bragg about stepping down. It hasn’t yet been announced whether the show will continue with a new presenter.
“It is the end of the South Bank Show for Melvyn but not the end of Melvyn on Sky Arts,” said the channel’s director, Philip Edgar-Jones.
Born in Bradford in 1937, Hockney was educated at the Royal College of Art in London, and came out at the age of 23, seven years before it was legal to be gay in Britain. Spotted early for his talents, he was able to work as an artist, alongside teaching, immediately after graduating.
Celebrating David Hockney will air on Sky Arts on August 28 and 29