David Hockney has always had a quality about his work that makes you look at the hues and shapes in nature a little differently. You suddenly see the curves and swirls in forest landscapes and long to see your reflection in water. In his new book, Simon Elliott not only takes on the task of illustrating the works of his longtime artistic inspiration, but he interviews him, incorporating his biography in a graphic novel-esque book.
Simon, like many of us, had a fascination with art making as a child, and later detached himself in the pursuit of a different journey. Working as a barrister by day, during the lockdown he found himself with a wealth of free time to draw and paint. “During that time I was making as many as 20 (pretty bad) paintings a day,” he tells us. Falling in love with the art of making again, he has been drawing every day since, and connecting to all the art that surrounds him – gallery trips and long walks to look at street art on Brick Lane.
Simon’s style often fuses sketchy lines and bright colours that have an inherent narrative quality. “I try not to make things look too finished. I try to lean into the fact that I’m entirely untrained, and therefore I have no idea how things are ‘supposed’ to be done,” he tells us. Throughout Hockney: A Graphic Life, his style gradually shifts to mirror Hockney’s artistic periods, from his pop art paintings depicting the everyday among family and friends, to his more flower-filled iPad drawings. “I adopted the graphic novel(ish) format as it allowed me to fit all the material in. It was something that seemed important in telling the story of an artist still busily working away at the age of 86,” he adds.
The book, for Simon, is truly a full circle moment. An early admirer of Hockney, as one of the first artists to incorporate the iPad into their practice, the book also traces Simon’s journey as his digital drawings develop. “I drew every page by hand, and then I decided that it would need to be a bit slicker if I was going to make a serious attempt at getting it published, so I photographed each page and traced them on my iPad” he tells us. “As soon as I bought the iPad and downloaded Procreate, I totally fell in love. The colour potential, the easy editing, the ability to take my studio anywhere with me and being able to draw in the dark,” he adds.
When we found out that Simon’s desire to turn the book into a biography came largely due to the small notes that he would take after every drawing, his journey becomes even more inspiring. With a passion and dedication to illustrating the life of one the biggest figures in modern and contemporary Western art, the project reveals both the stylistic grace and fluidity of both Simon and Hockney. “The book is about passion. I hope that the thousands of hours that it took are shown on the pages and that people take away the sheer joy in making, which is ultimately, the message of Hockney’s life.”
GallerySimon Elliott: Hockney: A Graphic Life (Copyright © Simon Elliott, 2023)
Simon Elliott: Hockney: A Graphic Life (Copyright © Simon Elliott, 2023)
About the Author
Yaya (they/them) is a staff writer at It's Nice That, with a particular interest in Black visual culture. They have previously written for publications such as WePresent, and worked as researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.