Hockney attacks 'philistines' over Somerville arrest

Pornography debate: Artist launches broadside against Boots, police and Parliament for attitudes to child photography
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Arts Correspondent

David Hockney, arguably Britain's best-known living artist, yesterday entered the controversy over the arrest of newsreader Julia Somerville and her partner, architect Jeremy Dixon, for taking pictures of her naked child.

Hockney startled a press conference called to publicise his forthcoming exhibition at the Royal Academy by making a swingeing attack on Scotland Yard, Boots the Chemist, and on Parliament for framing "philistine laws on pictures".

And in a theatrical gesture, he produced from his pocket a postcard of an 18th-century painting of a half-naked young girl, lying in bed, with her legs in the air, stroking her dog. The painting was by the French artist, Fragonard.

The press conference started calmly enough, with Hockney in fine form, joking about his life and how he liked to live and work quietly, often bypassing London when he flew from Los Angeles to visit his 95-year-old mother, by flying to Humberside via Amsterdam.

Asked about contemporary art in Britain and moves away from painting and drawing, he replied: "It was sad when they abandoned certain kinds of teaching of craft. I pointed out where it might lead. I recently saw the show of young artists at the Tate. There were no warm depictions of a human being."

Then, to the surprise of the packed room, he went on: "The person who was trying to make warm depictions of a human being was arrested by the police.

"There's something deeply wrong and deeply odd that this happens to someone who tried to make a depiction of a human being. You are supporting the police doing that. I'm not. I am criticising it. The desire to make depictions of a human being is a common thing, part of a great tradition in art. It goes back hundreds of years."

Later, Hockney was asked about photography, and again he brought the subject back to the Somerville arrest. He said: "People are very naive about photography. I think they are very naive about photography at Scotland Yard, frankly.

"I've looked up quite a few of the restrictions that Parliament has on pictures. I've a picture in my pocket of a little girl, about 12, or 13, or 14, in a very, very provocative pose. If I described that to Scotland Yard they would come over right now. I think something is wrong in Boots too and I don't mind saying so.

"Parliament are philistines, people who are not concerned with beauty, not concerned with the things I am. Scotland Yard do not really like pictures. That's the point."

Hockney called on the Royal Academy, of which he is a member, to make a stand on the issue. Royal Academy secretary Piers Rogers said he was considering holding a debate on the restrictions on pictures.

The exhibition, David Hockney - A Drawing Retrospective, starts at the Royal Academy on Thursday and runs until 28 January. It is the first exhibition on this scale devoted to his works on paper. Some of the 176 drawings, watercolours, photo-collages and sketch books, gathered from around the world, have never been exhibited.