John Hockney’s ‘Never Worry What The Neighbours Think’ Is a Tribute to His Family

There is a sense throughout the book, with its stubborn refusal to spotlight the most famous of the Hockney siblings, that John will not let David outshine his family.

‘The Hockneys: Never Worry What the Neighbours Think’ by John Hockney ‎ Legend Press

“Never worry what the neighbours think,” was Kenneth Hockney’s advice to his five children. John, Paul, Philip, Margaret and David Hockney each pursued artistic or entrepreneurial lives. Most famous of the siblings, David became one of Britain’s most beloved and easily recognised artists. In the youngest of the siblings, John Hockney’s memoir Never Worry What The Neighbours Think, he recalls the formative years in a loving and tight-knit family that fostered the imaginations and talents of the Hockney kids. 

Sign Up For Our Daily Newsletter

By clicking submit, you agree to our <a href="">terms of service</a> and acknowledge we may use your information to send you emails, product samples, and promotions on this website and other properties. You can opt out anytime.

See all of our newsletters

In 1968, John Hockney moved to Australia and presently lives in Leura, New South Wales, 100km west of Sydney in the Blue Mountains region. This was where he penned the memoir, launched in the United Kingdom in 2019 and in December of 2021, released in paperback form. He is thorough, detailing his grandparents and parent’s meeting and marriage in 1929. The couple resided in Morecambe, or “Bradford-by-the-Sea”. Their first born, Paul arrived in 1931, then Philip in 1933, Margaret in 1935, David in 1937, and author, John in 1939. The same year that war was declared, and soon after families were issued gas masks and rationed coupons for food, clothing and essentials.

Kenneth Hockney’s courageous choice to be a pacifist during war resulted in his elder sons being bullied relentlessly. He upped his young family to 18 Hutton Terrace, Eccleshill in 1943, which David depicted in his lovely 1954 watercolor and pencil work Hutton Terrace Eccleshill, held by the Bradford Museums and Galleries collection in the UK. The same year, David painted At the Grocer’s, gouache on paper, also held in that collection. It depicted the local store where neighbors gathered to chatter and have their goods weighed, measured and charged accordingly.

As Hockney shares early on, “Sharing an attic bedroom with David Hockney from 1943 to 1957, from childhood through mid-teen years, I had no perception he was to become one of the greatest artists of the twenty-first century.”

There is a sense throughout the book, with its stubborn refusal to spotlight the most famous of the Hockney siblings, that John will not let David outshine his family. It is noble, but to the detriment of readers who – understandably – have picked up the book to gain an insight into the man they know so well through the media via interviews, images with the Queen, and his decades of paintings, drawings and sketches. 

One of the most moving depictions David made of his mother was Mum, 10 March 94, owned by The David Hockney Foundation. In it, her face is delicately sketched in gray pencil and the gentle, regal curve of her cheekbones, her slender nose, deep and dark eyes seem both deeply alert and yet, disinterested.  Her hair curls softly about her face and there are only lightly sketched details of her shirt and a hand, as if her face was so compelling, nothing else mattered. It is a loving portrait. John recalls that his mother was the guest of honor at David’s exhibition opening for Vogue Paris. It was her 85th birthday and she was gifted a Chanel suit the next day by David, which she then wore to Buckingham Palace when accompanying David as he received his Companion of Honour from the Queen. 

The eldest of the siblings, Paul Hockney died in 2018. John recalls that he “was artistic before David,” though Paul became an accountant rather than choosing the professional life of an artist. “His qualification and specialization in tax law was a boon to the young David Hockney, as Paul became aware of relevant laws pertaining to art deals,” writes John. He recalls, too, the encouragement Paul gave to his younger brother, encouraging a local Bradford gallery to offer David a show, in which his etchings were sold for “just a few pounds.”

Philip, like Paul, chose a profession much less wily than the arts. He studied Mechanical Engineering and later became a qualified draughtsman, joining the army through the Royal Engineers Regiment. He was the second of the siblings to move to Australia, taking a six-week trip via the Fairsky with his wife and daughter. Margaret had moved there to work at the Bush Nursing Hospital in the regional town of Bright in Victoria. Margaret was an adventurer, not only the first of the clan to travel to Australia but the first to venture to South Africa purely driven by her fascination for the landscape. She, like John, authored a book My Mother is not Your Mother. Released in 2017, John reveals nothing of the book nor his feelings about it.

Each chapter is flourished with a hokey reference back to “never worried what the neighbours thought,” which is unnecessary and twee. Dividing his book into chapters dedicated to each of his family members is twee in its way too. It neatly summarizes their childhood, their schooling, working lives, marriages or otherwise, procreation or otherwise, and their current situation. It robs readers of the opportunity to delve into the relationships between the five siblings and their experiences as they happened in a linear fashion. Perhaps though, it comes back to Hockney’s stubborn insistence on not favoring David. He, like his siblings, gets his own chapter according to the order of his birth.

David’s chapter should have been entitled “John’s memories of himself and David in which David is the support act.” There is much about riding bicycles together and minor misbehavior. It is when David discovers art at school that we see an insight into the boy whose artwork would sell at $90 million in New York in 2018. He broke the record for the most expensive artwork sold at auction by a living artist with his 1972 work Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures). Despite his parents advice to pursue work with advertising companies, David was adamant about attending art school, which he duly did: Bradford Regional College of Art. He would go on to sketch variations of Bradford School of Art in 1953, depicting in grey and off-white, the solemn buildings and the narrow shopfront-lined streets nearby. A photo of the artist aged 18, bespectacled and posing with his broad paint palette and brushes is lovely to reflect on now that he is 87. There is the same intensity of vision, but a gentleness to his posture that invites you to believe he’d welcome tea and a chat if you were to ask. John describes David as someone who does not recognize before, or next, but only now. “Nothing else matters – only his art matters. Now is the only time there is, for David.”

To be fair, David gets two chapters. One devoted to pre-fame and the next to the man who would become a pop art icon, globally recognised and celebrated. By the time the book closes with John’s chapter devoted to himself, there is a sense that the climax has been reached and this is the obligatory final wrap-up. For David Hockney fans keen to get an insight into his youth and how he was – and is – seen by his siblings, this is a wonderful lens. For fans of his art, this book provides little sustenance for thought and insight. It is, though, an easily read book and written without fuss or frills. As a memoir of family, of place, and of making the best under wartime and financially challenging circumstances, it is a reminder that – as hoary as it sounds, love does compensate for a lack of material goods, and it binds us long after we have flown our parents coop for the wide world.

John Hockney’s ‘Never Worry What The Neighbours Think’ Is a Tribute to His Family