For 14 years, John Hockney shared an attic bedroom with his brother, David. He didn’t know it then, but in their childhood closeness, he would witness the formative years of one of the greatest artists of the 21st century in a way that few others would.
In a new book, John - the youngest of five children - looks back on early life with his famous sibling, offering a never before seen insight into the whole Hockney family, from growing up in Bradford in the Second World War through to their diverse lives in adulthood across three continents.
There are just two years in age between him and David and the brothers grew up playing together, enjoying a shared love of adventure and exploring Yorkshire’s communities on bike and on foot.
“Our ‘naughtiness’ after lights out was never more than a torchlight under bedclothes,” John writes, “sharing spooky stories, reading comics, pulling faces and playing childish trivia, sometimes frightening ourselves into belief there were real ‘bogeymen’ behind a Chinese screen standing in the corner.”
Most nights the boys would head to bed together, eagerly anticipating their parents’ stories that followed. “We loved listening to bedtime stories,” says John, who now lives in Australia.
“We’d basically be in each other’s arms listening to my mother or father. If it was my mother, it would be a Bible story, if it was my father he’d tell us what we’d done that day so he’d start with a little boy called John or a little boy called David.”
Though he had no idea of the success his brother would later achieve, David’s love for art was evident to John from an early age – and long before he accessed his first drawing pad aged nearly 10.
During wartime, when paper was scarce, a young David would wake early and sneak downstairs with a pencil, filling the edges of newspapers, and magazines with drawings – anything from figures to houses, landscapes and cartoons – much to the gentle irritation of members of his family.
“Whatever he did – he might have done a little village street for example – there was perspective there,” John says. “It wasn’t trashy, it was pretty good. We obviously didn’t know – who would know? – that he was going to produce this incredible amount of work, it was just that he loved drawing and that was it...But it was obvious there was something special.”
By his early teens, then studying at Bradford Grammar School, David’s focus was strongly on creating art. “Even at 11-years-old, his only agenda was art,” John writes. “It was his only reason for living.”
He later elaborates: “He wasn’t as interested in the same things any more. There was a time that I began to lose him because his interest was in art.”
Whilst David is undoubtedly the most famous of the Hockneys, John wanted the book to tell the stories of all of his siblings, as well as his parents Kenneth and Laura. “David is obviously the most famous and he will be remembered for centuries, but I felt my other siblings had each achieved well, leaving some sort of a legacy. And I felt that was important to share.”
But his siblings were not as enthused. “They didn’t want to be in it,” he says. “They didn’t see the point. But I did and it was my book. They weren’t all that happy about it...That could be because they’ve done their things but didn’t feel it was all that important [to share], but to me, it was.”
Titled Hockneys – Never Worry What the Neighbours Think, the book draws its name from the words that Kenneth used to inspire all five of his children to choose their own route in life.
It was a philosophy he followed as he fought to tackle social injustice and John talks of his father’s courage as he resolutely stood by his own beliefs, despite his pacifist approach during wartime leading to torments that affected the whole family.
“Never worry what the neighbours think was a quote my father shared with his children,” John writes. “He never wanted us to be anything else except true to ourselves, to be confident, to pursue life and opportunities as we faced them. Each Hockney sibling followed his advice, making a place in their world.”
This philosophy was part of the upbringing that formed the launchpad for an artist’s work which has inspired and continues to inspire generations across the world.
Considered to be an important contributor to the pop art movement of the 1960s, David has enjoyed a career that has spanned several decades, producing work in almost every medium, from painting to drawing, photography and printmaking.
Last year, one of his paintings sold at Christie’s in New York for nearly $30m (£22m) and in a 2011 poll of more than 1,000 names, David, now 82, was voted the most influential British artist of all time. His reputation as one of the finest living artists is unquestioned but his success has not been at the expense of his siblings.
The late Paul Hockney, the oldest of the five, was artistic, too. “But he didn’t have the same talent David did,” says John, picking up the story. “So when he got rejected from some of the advertising agencies in Leeds when he went there with a portfolio my father said, ‘well why don’t you become a chartered accountant?’” It may have seemed a far cry from the art world but
Paul’s specialisation in tax law became a great advantage for David when it came to securing deals for his work. “It became terrific for David later on in life and it also gave Paul the opportunity to be close to artists,” John explains.
Perhaps Paul’s greatest legacy, though, dates from his time as Lord Mayor of Bradford, during his 13-year stint as a councillor. His mayoral appeal was to build a youth holiday camp in which inner-city children could spend time in the countryside. The result was the Nell Bank Centre at Ilkley, which still exists today. More than 250,000 children have made use of its facilities.
Philip, the second oldest of the Hockney siblings, has also been mayor, thoughin Australia. He emigrated there with his family once he qualified as a draughtsman and built up a business manufacturing tankers.
With his team of draughtsmen and engineers, he created a tanker designed to address stability issues and was awarded an Order of Australia for his contribution to the country’s road transport industry. “Industrious, adventurous, inventive, his life leaves a legacy of achievements,” John writes.
Margaret, the only female among the Hockney siblings, tells her own story in her memoir published in 2017, which charts her life as she forged a career as a nurse, battled against creeping deafness and later developed her own herbal medicine business.
With digital art, Margaret also found her creative mojo and she is credited with influencing her brother’s later work, after showing him what could be done with a scanner and encouraging him to experiment with digital cameras.
For John, a professional storyteller who has specialised in evoking memories amongst the elderly, the book was a way he could recognise the achievements of the siblings he adores.
“Each of us have been passionate about our achievements, passionate about our chosen careers, passionate about life,” he writes. “My parents Kenneth and Laura Hockney provided the grounding to have faith in ourselves and faith in what we choose. I think we have been lucky.”
‘The Hockneys – Never Worry What The Neighbours Think’ is out now.