David Hockney has ignited a row about whether smoking could protect people from coronavirus.
The artist is currently living in his home in Normandy where he has been painting a series of epic works – including a remarkable animation – depicting the transformation of his garden from winter to spring.
But he has become embroiled in a row with The Guardian newspaper after he claims it refused to publish a letter he wrote setting out his argument in favour of smoking.
In the letter Hockney wrote: ‘Now we have Covid-19, and surprise, surprise, a lot of reports are coming out saying that smokers rarely get it. Could there be something in this?’
David Hockney (pictured) has ignited a row about whether smoking could protect people from coronavirus
After the newspaper failed to run the letter, the 82-year-old artist branded it ‘cowardly’ and claimed it ‘cannot face’ aspects of his argument. He added: ‘It’s shocking that their agenda doesn’t allow them to engage in open debate on this.’
Hockney pointed out that Greece has seen one of the lowest coronavirus death rates in Europe despite having an above average number of smokers.
In his first ever Zoom interview, Hockney spoke exclusively to Mail+ to discuss his views on smoking and his controversial belief that it ‘might save your life’.
The artist is currently living in his home in Normandy where he has been painting a series of epic works – including a remarkable animation – depicting the transformation of his garden from winter to spring
In the discussion with Daily Mail Editor Geordie Greig he also opened up about his ‘marvellous’ time in lockdown creating an extraordinary new painting with movement – which can be seen for the first time on Mail+.
The incredible artwork, which sits alongside his spring series, was completed on an iPad across a number of months and captures a cherry blossom tree transitioning from winter to spring in his three-acre garden.
In the discussion with Daily Mail Editor Geordie Greig he also opened up about his ‘marvellous’ time in lockdown creating an extraordinary new painting with movement
He created an image a day on his iPad, with some taking no longer than 25 minutes while others saw him work into the night.
He hopes around 100 of the spring paintings will be exhibited at some point next year in a chronological line allowing a ‘spring happening’ narrative.
Hockney’s theory that smoking could prevent coronavirus has split opinion. Previously, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘It is abundantly clear … that smoking makes the impact of a coronavirus worse.’ And England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty advised: ‘If you are going to give up smoking, this is a very good moment to do it.’
The incredible art work, which sits alongside his spring series, was completed on an iPad across a number of months and captures a cherry blossom tree transitioning from winter to spring in his three-acre garden
But scientists at Paris hospital Pitie-Salpetriere said they were going to give nicotine patches to key workers to test the theory after a small study showed the proportion of infected smokers is much lower than in others.
Last night a Guardian News & Media spokesman said: ‘We receive hundreds of letters a day and cannot publish them all. However, we are not aware of recently receiving a letter from David Hockney.’
He created an image a day on his iPad, with some taking no longer than 25 minutes while others saw him work into the night
He hopes around 100 of the spring paintings will be exhibited at some point next year in a chronological line allowing a ‘spring happening’ narrative
Pictured is the final image of the sequence which depicts the transformation of a tree from from winter to spring
Britain used to be a tolerant country. That’s gone up in smoke
Commentary by David Hockney
At the moment I am living in a very nice three-bedroomed house in Normandy where I am spending lockdown with my assistant, Jean Pierre Goncalves de Lima, who I love dearly, and with my technical assistant Jonathan Wilkinson. We all have one thing in common. I still smoke, so does JP and Jonathan does occasionally.
For at least the last 20 years I have been writing letters to The Guardian on this subject, defending my habit. Some would say ‘addiction’, but I am addicted to quite a few other things, certainly drawing and reading for a start.
I have smoked since I was 16 (five Woodbines for 9d) and the only time I gave up for a while was in 1969 because the person I lived with then didn’t like it. That means I have smoked for 66 years.
My father, a rabid anti-smoker, died at 75 because he ate too many chocolate biscuits. He would walk up the street, buy a packet and eat them all in the park because he was diabetic and couldn’t do it at home. He went into four comas, the last one killing him with a heart attack. He was quite irrational.
And me? I will be 83 in two months. I walk a bit slower, rarely exercise and have never been to a gym in my life, but I am very active and have already made 85 iPad drawings depicting the arrival of spring in our large garden. Now we have Covid-19, and surprise, surprise, a lot of reports are coming out saying that smokers rarely get it. Could there be something in this?
Well, the only time I had the flu was 1969, the year I didn’t smoke. I thought I was dying and I was in bed for a week in New York. I suspect the leader of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) may have something to say about all this. I do not know her but I expect she is a mean-spirited bossy-boots obsessed with death. There are lots of them in England and they seem to be running everything today.
Now I know there are a lot of people who don’t like smoking, but a lot of people still do. Smoking has now become the cause of every known ailment, at least according to the packets. I don’t believe it. How can I, when I have lived in smoke for so long?
I don’t suppose non-smokers even know what has happened to the cigarette packets. They no longer just say ‘cigarettes kill’ (my reply to that is that life is a killer – we are all one day nearer oblivion than we were yesterday). Today they also put horrific images on them.
Some of them are just plainly ridiculous. A picture of a man in a hospital bed with his wife and children round him is suggesting surely that sorrow and grief would disappear if only people would stop smoking. The dancing Gipsy girl on the old blue Gitanes packet has been replaced by a woman in a wheelchair. This is quite funny really but also very sad.
All these are the result of that ASH message, relentlessy going on about death. There is no such thing as a professional smoker but there are a few thousand professional anti-smokers all funded by the smokers themselves. It’s a ridiculous situation that I resent.
Now let’s get back to the people who don’t like smoking. Well, they have now triumphed, smoking cannot be tolerated. A large percentage of the people who smoked went to pubs for a smoke and a drink. I don’t have to say that pubs aren’t health clubs, do I? But why not have pubs that allow smokers? They do in Germany and Austria, but the mean-spirited bossy dreary people won’t tolerate this here.
Britain used to be a tolerant place. To tolerate something is to put up with something you might not like. This is now gone for smokers. The British medical establishment believes it will be win, win, win. They also cannot understand that time is elastic. It is the intensity of life that counts, not longevity.
That’s my message for today: Love life.
This is an edited version of David Hockney’s letter to The Guardian.