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THIS IS, AFTER ALL, SOMEBODY WHO started his career by remaking not just his work but himself. In 1961, when he first visited the U.S., not long after finishing London's Royal College of Art, Hockney was thrilled by the freedom and challenge of Manhattan. He responded by bleaching his hair blond, his trademark look for years to come. But his real transformation began three years later, when he discovered Los Angeles and refashioned himself into somebody even more California than the Beach Boys. So heartfelt and persuasive was his embrace of L.A. that within a few years his lambent paintings of lawn sprinklers, swimming pools and palm trees became part of everybody's mental picture of the place. Although he saw it all through eyes schooled in Piero della Francesca and Picasso, you could tell that what he loved above all was simply how of-the-moment L.A. was, with its sunstruck hedonism and emerging sexual freedoms, so unlike the confines of postwar Britain. It's useful to recall that one of Hockney's enduring contributions to the history of the nude--we mean this--is the tan line. That's not something he would have seen very much of back in Yorkshire.
All the same, in his 60s, Hockney has been looking homeward. Since last spring, Yorkshire is exactly where he has been, living and painting in the rolling farmland he has known since childhood. And he has gone native again, just as much as he ever did in California, although this time it's in the place he's native to. In California Hockney was all about brightly striped shirts and mismatched pastel socks. Bridlington Hockney goes in for charcoal tweeds and plaid slippers. The blond hair has gone gray. The big round eyeglasses have been exchanged for wire ovals. His socks match. Hockney has begun looking like a man who has found his psychological default mode. It's the eternal English householder.
Even so, he's not the type to keep an ordinary household. His downstairs parlor is crammed with tall cartons that contain the stretched canvases he has delivered regularly from London. On the stairway leading to his studio, somebody has tracked bright red paint up the carpet. Hockney lives here with John Fitzherbert, his companion for more than a decade, and a studio assistant, Jean-Pierre Goncalves de Lima. Hockney still keeps a place in London and another in L.A., where he plans to return in May. But until then he's in Yorkshire to paint landscapes through all four seasons, a natural cycle he lost touch with in California. "I was coming here for years with my mother," he says. "To paint a landscape, you need to know the place quite well--where the sun is going to come up, how it will move."