A new biography of one of Britain’s greatest artists, David Hockney, reveals how he sacked the ballet dancer Rudolph Nureyev, clashed with a director of the Tate gallery and made actor Dennis Hopper so angry he looked like “a chain-gang murderer”.
A Pilgrim’s Progress, which will be out later this month, is described by its publisher as “the one-and-only definitive record” of the artist’s life and works.
It describes how Hockney was visiting Hopper’s home – designed by famed architect Frank Gehry – in Venice, California, when his dog, Little Boodgie, defecated on the floor, according to a report in The Guardian.
“Oah, it’ll be dry in the morning, luv, and you can just pick it up,” Hockney told the Hollywood star who was so furious that the artist described him as looking like a “chain-gang murderer”. Hockney feared Hopper was close to killing the dachshund.
Hockney, who lives in Bridlington, Yorkshire, adopted a calm and detached manner when he decided to sack Rudolph Nureyev from a ballet collaboration, the book reveals.
“Well, Rudi, it’s obvious that we are not going to be able to work together, so I’m afraid it’s all finished,” he told the dancing legend.
But he unleashed the full weight of his fury when berating the former director of the Tate, Sir Norman Reid, who had angered him by refusing to buy a work by Hockney despite controversially purchasing Carl Andre’s pile of bricks in 1976.
“I went to see them. I told Norman Reid he’s just a pathetic little shit,” Hockney says in the book. “I said it to his face actually, and I found myself enjoying it!”
The book, by Christopher Simon Sykes, also tells of Hockney’s horror when he found himself placed on the top table with then President Ronald Reagan, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, Jacques Cousteau and Mikhail Baryshnikov at a dinner in the royal couple’s honour.
A Pilgrim’s Progress does not cover the 2013 death of his assistant, Dominic Elliott, who drank drain cleaner while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. However it is dedicated to his memory saying he “died far too soon”.
Sykes said he had approached Hockney directly about the biography.
“Everybody said, ‘you’re mad, he’ll never say yes’ because he hadn’t enjoyed a previous book that had been done,” he told The Guardian. “He chose me, I think, because he thought I’d be less of a nuisance than others.”