David Juda Discusses Working With David Hockney, Christo and More

LONDON — Wearing a fedora and faded jeans, Bruno Mars strikes a contemplative pose in the portrait on sale at Masterpiece Online. It costs $1.2 million, which may sound hefty for a work on sale at a virtual fair. But the charcoal-and-crayon canvas from 2018 is by David Hockney, who holds the record as the world’s most expensive living artist.

The portrait is offered by Annely Juda Fine Art, which has represented Hockney in Britain since the early 1990s. It’s in a similar style to one of Ed Sheeran, also priced at $1.2 million, which hangs in the gallery’s Mayfair space. Mr. Sheeran introduced the artist to Mr. Mars, who then dropped by for lunch with Mr. Hockney in Los Angeles. The artist found him lively and interesting, and asked to draw and paint him, said David Juda, the gallery’s director.

Mr. Juda and his mother, Annely, a prominent German-born art dealer, founded the gallery in 1968. It is still representing major artists and their estates in Britain, including Hockney, but also Christo (who died last month), the sculptor Anthony Caro (1924-2013), and the painter Leon Kossoff (1926-2019).

Why has Mr. Hockney stayed with the gallery instead of switching to one of the many mega-dealers in London?

“David Juda is the least slick dealer that I know, with a modest house,” Mr. Hockney said in an email. “He puts all his love into the gallery and always pays me promptly. Why should I leave?

“I don’t think I’m much of a careerist,” he added. “I never gave it too much thought. I am always busy making my pictures, and my dealers have to take it that way, and they all do.”

Mr. Hockney also noted that he did his first drawings of Mr. Juda in 1972, “when he had much more hair.”

In an interview, Mr. Juda recalled that before starting the gallery, he worked as a waiter on a luxury liner, “which, I’m sure, stood me in good stead to be an art dealer.”

“To be a first-class waiter, you need patience,” he said. “You also get a very good idea, very quickly, of people’s character: how awful they are, and how nice they are.”

The following conversation was edited and condensed.

How did you come to work with David Hockney?

My mother knew him from about 1966. In 1971-72, when I was in my 20s, he started to draw me quite often, and that’s how we got to know each other.

What is he like?

He’s probably the most intelligent artist I know. He’s so inquisitive about everything. At the moment he’s in Normandy, painting, and he sends me pictures all the time. He’s a workaholic, in the nicest way.

Hockney is pretty easy to work with, inasmuch as he understands what’s needed, and doesn’t want to bother about unimportant things; he’s continually being asked by people to do this and that. You’re going to see wonderful work coming from him in the future.

Do you have any stories to share about him?

In the late 1970s, my first wife and I separated, and I desperately needed some money. David had given me a drawing of myself. I rang him and said: “Would you mind if I sold it? I’m getting a divorce.” I sold it for 1,600 pounds.

We had a show in the mid-90s, and David said: “You need some more drawings. Come over to the studio.” I went to see him, and as I was going through some drawings, I went past one of a young kid with long hair. It was a drawing of me. He had planted it there. He said: “Wouldn’t it be nice if you had that?” and gave it to me.

That really explains him: It’s clever, it’s sensitive, and it’s generous.

How did you meet Christo?

In the summer of 1968, I worked for the Documenta exhibition in Kassel, [West] Germany. Because I spoke German, I was meant to help him coordinate things for a couple of weeks. It ended up taking three months. It started our lifelong friendship.

Originally, he had a balloon, and inside there was going to be helium. He borrowed $10,000, which was needed for the helium to get this 280-foot phallus up. It went wrong, and the balloon burst, and he lost the whole lot. He was penniless, basically.

We realized that there was no point in getting more helium in. We used two enormous cranes to lift it up, and all we had was air in it. Instead of this being ready for the beginning of Documenta, we got it up in November, when Documenta was finished.

What was he like?

He was remarkable. He was also a fanatic for his work, in the nicest possible way. I think both Christo and Hockney suffered from art-scene snobbery.

Lots of people put Christo down, because the general public loved his work. He’s a much bigger artist than he’s recognized for today. In about 10 years’ time, you’re going to really know how important Christo is.

David is also really well known. He and I were once in a taxi about 10 years ago, going off to his place. The taxi driver asked me what I did, and said: “I don’t like a lot of contemporary art. Who I do really like is David Hockney.” David, who was sitting in the back, was thrilled.

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