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Hanging out with Hockney

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The recent David Hockney exhibition at London’s Tate Britain put a spotlight on the artist and his long relationship with London, where he still keeps a second home. The Hotel Indigo London – Kensington makes a natural base for exploring Hockney’s haunts in the city, from his time as a student at the Royal College of Art to his current studio off Kensington High Street.

In fact Pembroke Studios, where Hockney has kept a work space since the 1980s, is just 15 minutes’ walk from the hotel, past local shops and tidy mid-Victorian terraces. Turn off Warwick Gardens into Pembroke Gardens and you can spy the red-brick 1890 manor through a discreet wrought-iron gate. Hockney occupies one of 11 spaces here, and captured it in his Pembroke Studio Interior (1984), a lithograph in Tate’s permanent collection. Though he lives most of the year in California, you may just catch him loitering with a cigarette on the deep lawn.

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The Beginning…of Hockney

Onward along buzzing Kensington High Street to the Royal College of Art, where Hockney enrolled in 1959 on a scholarship . Back then the college was located a few blocks east, on Exhibition Road, but it’s now named a double-height gallery in the new Stevens Building after him. The gallery is often closed to the public, but you can tour exhibitions by RCA students in the main Entrance Gallery.

Head up Broad Walk now, through Kensington Gardens and up into the white Edwardian landscape of Notting Hill. In the 1960s, Hockney kept a small flat at 17 Powis Terrace and worked on his iconic painting of Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell – plus portraits of other neighbourhood bohemians. The house has since been upstaged by the bright blue storefront next door. But walk around the corner to 21 Powis Mews and you can see back into the raw, industrial window of Hockney’s old studio.

Meeting the good people.

Quiet Talbot Road leads to pretty, tree-lined Hereford Road and the opportunity for lunch, if you’re into Mexican-inflected Californian cuisine. Pomona’s, round the back of the red-awninged Commander oyster bar, is a glossy West Coast café with a Starburst-coloured interior inspired by Hockney’s interpretations of 1970s Malibu. Order a quinoa and grapefruit “power bowl” in your chair of swimming-pool blue before hopping the Central Line for the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.

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Hockney used to sneak in here in the 1960s to paint rehearsals with the Royal Ballet, eventually striking up a friendship with dancer Wayne Sleep (see Hockney’s George Lawson & Wayne Sleep, 1972, for a closer look). You can take a 45-minute tour of the dazzlingly renovated Greek Revival building most afternoons. Or you can follow the artist’s footsteps back through Covent Garden and Soho. The Dean Street restaurant Duck Soup was once the site of the Colony Room, a private club where Hockney drank with Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud late into the night.

But not everything has changed. At Langan’s, on Stratton Street in Mayfair, young David once washed dishes to pay his bar tab, then began donating art instead. His paintings are gone from the walls, but his sketches of late owner Peter Langan are – literally – still on the menu. Check it out, then order a glass of fizz in his honour.

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