If you ask David Hockney how many cigarettes he smokes a day he shrugs, though five minutes into a conversation in the courtyard of the Royal Academy in London he is lighting up for the second time. But he is clearer about his art. He produces a new work every day.
Hockney, 74, is the grand old man of British art and doesn't suffer rules gladly. An internet search reveals smoking as a preoccupation, but if you graze for images, his popular California swimming pool paintings from the 1970s predominate.
California seems a lifetime away in London's sunshine where, as he puffs, Hockney fulminates: "I am sick and tired of people telling us what we can and can't do. Smokers get a very rough deal."
His voice is rising, to the consternation of an Academy minder: "David. You promised you wouldn't."
But the artist is in full stride with a captivated audience:
"People say cigar smoking kills you. I would like to say loudly" - his voice booming out and attracting the attention of tourists - "that smoking cigars never killed anyone.
"We are all addicted to something," he adds. "I am addicted to lots of things. In particular, I am addicted to art."
It is the art that matters most. His latest works, due to go on show in London this month, will reveal another newer addiction - the landscape of his childhood, the woods and fields of East Yorkshire presented with a luminous intensity.
From the playful young artist who dyed his hair in the 1960s - "because blonds have more fun" - through his frank depictions of the hedonistic lifestyle of Los Angeles to his current persona as an ageing curmudgeon, Hockney has always been uncompromising.
But controversy has always been counterpointed by a constant flow of terrific art - enjoyed around the world and attracting both increasing acclaim and ever higher prices. The artist is in London on a brief visit from his present base at Bridlington in Yorkshire for a sneak preview of the Academy's big Hockney show, coming in January, entitled A Bigger Picture. It is part of the cultural Olympiad running up to the 2012 Olympic Games.
"It's not two thousand and twelve," he scolds a representative from the show's sponsor BNP Paribas during a press conference. "It's twenty twelve. Perhaps by the time we get to 2066 people will have got it."
In cold print Hockney may sound testy but in person all his anger is delivered with a wry smile and a Northern sense of humour. It's a personality that has made him one of the best-loved artists in Britain. His work has made him one of the most admired and respected. And he has long been one of the most articulate of the nation's painters.
Hockney has avoided the post-modern provocations and conceptual japes of younger British artists such as Damien Hirst or Tracey Emin. Instead he has devoted most of his career to painting, but with regular forays into other media.
But to label him old-fashioned would be to misrepresent the radicalism at the heart of his art and his constant willingness to experiment.
His latest departure will be unveiled at the January show - a way of representing the landscape of his beloved Yorkshire in a series of multi-screen films produced by locking together nine video cameras. The cameras were clamped into a frame and mounted on the front of a jeep. As the vehicle moves slowly through the woods the images captured force the viewer to look more closely at the details of the landscape.
One of the films portrays Woldgate Woods through four seasons. "It took a whole year to make this, hour and a half long. We could have filled four walls with it."
In the past Hockney has been what the digital age dubs "an early adopter". He believes that throughout history, technical innovation has created dramatic new ways for artists to work.
In 2006, when he first unveiled some of his large-scale Yorkshire landscapes at London's Annely Juda Gallery, he said: "Constable would have been thrilled to work on this scale, but his problem was that he did not have tubes of paint. The invention of the collapsible tube was necessary for the burst of plein air painting that was Impressionism."
In his long career Hockney has experimented with photocopiers and fax machines and, 20 years ago, used a Quantel digital paintbox - a television graphics tool - to create art live on TV. He has used montages of photographs to offer a more incisive exploration of landscapes, interiors and portraits with multiple viewpoints through time and space (echoing the Cubist experiments of his beloved Picasso).
A Bigger Picture isn't actually a retrospective as it focuses solely on the landscape paintings Hockney has produced since the late 1950s. An equally vast show could be devoted to his portraiture and other work. The earliest piece here is virtually juvenilia - a sketch of his Yorkshire countryside made early in his art school days. His vivid work in California and in other parts of the world will also be represented. But the star attraction undoubtedly will be a huge collection of new work made since he returned to the landscape of his earliest years in the woods and fields of East Yorkshire in 2005. He says it'll make the region look as exciting as the Grand Canyon.
They range from a vivid series of coloured works drawn swiftly on his iPad to vast multi-panelled paintings of woods and fields, transformed from seemingly unremarkable places few would notice to groves of luminous beauty.
Throughout his long decades abroad, Hockney had returned to Yorkshire regularly to visit his parents at Christmas and, after his father's death, to see his mother and his sister. He also spent a long time there during the final illness of his friend Jonathan Silver, the founder of the Salts Mill Gallery near Shipley that is largely devoted to Hockney's work.
"I spent 30 Christmases in Yorkshire," Hockney says, "but though it's a landscape I knew from my childhood I never really thought of it as a subject until about 10 years ago when I realised that at my age it would be a wonderful subject - a marvellous place where it was quiet and we would be left alone."
Now he has spent years in these woods looking and learning about when the best time to paint is, the direction of the sun, the changing play of light.
"A friend came up recently and I got him up at 5.30 and took him into the woods and I said: 'Look how everything is incredibly clear, everything is well-defined.' It is only like this at 6.30 in the morning when the sun is low on the east coast. I said: 'You've got to know the optimum time to look at something in nature.' Look at the way van Eyck painted his foliage. He must have known the best time."
Hockney used to do opera set design, but his increasing deafness forced him to stop. But deafness has helped him in other ways: "As I was losing my hearing I noticed I was seeing Yorkshire more clearly. I can't hear spatially now, but my visual spatial awareness has increased dramatically. So for me this disability is an advantage."
For Hockney, his art is about an intensity of looking and seeing the world anew. It is also about sharing this intensity - making people look at things differently. "To get the most out of the world around you you've got to really look hard," he says. "Most people out walking in the woods don't really look. They just glance around. They scan. Before I start a painting I spend a lot of time looking and thinking, I go out in the car and pull a chair out of the boot and sit in the woods. I sit there and smoke and just look."
Of the show's likely impact he says: "Maybe people will watch the following spring more carefully. Get more pleasure, more enjoyment from the world. Enjoy the world. That's what I say."
A rebel without a pause
When the 1960s started to swing David Hockney was there to help get the party started - still an art student when he was declared one of the founders of the British pop art scene.
Less steely than in America, the pop art visions of Hockney, Peter Blake, Patrick Caulfield, Allen Jones and Richard Hamilton were at the playful end of the spectrum. Hockney's mop of dyed blond hair, odd glasses and Northern sensibilities placed him at the heart of that era's revolt into style alongside the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the photographer David Bailey and the model Twiggy.
But he was a bit older than most of them. He was born in Bradford in Yorkshire in 1937 to working-class parents, and after studying at the Bradford School of Art spent two years doing National Service as a hospital orderly before going off to the prestigious Royal College of Art in London. He was still studying when his work was included in the 1961 Royal Academy show Young Contemporaries - alongside Blake - that proclaimed the arrival of British pop art.
Hockney has been a rebel without a pause ever since, making waves and ruffling feathers with his uncompromising stance on everything from smoking and homosexuality to controversial claims about how the Old Masters made their work, outlined in his 2001 book Secret Knowledge. But he has never been caged with one movement.
In 1963, he had his first one-man show in London at the Kasmin Gallery and that same year he started to travel internationally, spending much of the hedonistic party decade of the 1960s outside the UK. In 1963, he visited New York and was then commissioned by The Sunday Times in London to produce a series of images in Egypt.
That year he also moved to the United States - teaching in Los Angeles, Iowa and Colorado. In 1968, he returned to London, then lived and worked in Paris from 1973 to 1975.
His reputation grew throughout the 1960s with several solo exhibitions in London, Paris and New York and participation in many group shows. But his real fame came after he moved to Los Angeles and started to produce his popular images of swimming pools and the California landscape and lifestyle. The period was celebrated in the film A Bigger Splash (1973).
In the decades that followed Hockney worked widely in different parts of the world - travelling to China in 1981 with the writer Stephen Spender, with whom he collaborated on a book, China Diary.
He has designed widely for the theatre and the opera, has been bold in experimenting in unexpected media and trying such then-new technology as the Polaroid camera, the fax machine, the photocopier, the iPhone and the iPad. His show in London that begins this month will unveil innovative use of video.
Hockney lived and worked in Los Angeles for nearly 25 years, but at the end of the 1990s returned to Britain, settling at Bridlington in East Yorkshire to be near his ageing mother. He has worked on landscapes there ever since. His first giant-scale work, A Bigger Grand Canyon - a vast study of the Arizona landmark - was unveiled in Paris in 1999. It features 60 painted panels. The new show will feature many more such large works.
David Hockney: A Bigger Picture runs from January 21 until April 9 at the Royal Academy in London.
The Hockney file
BORN July 9, 1937, Bradford, UK
FAMILY Parents Kenneth and Laura; brothers Paul, Philip, David and John; sister Margaret
SCHOOLING Scholarship to Bradford Grammar School, Bradford School of Art and Royal College of Art in London
EARLIEST JOB Hockney was a conscientious objector, so did National Service as a hospital orderly.
MOST FAMOUS WORKS A Bigger Splash and Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy
HIGHEST PRICE PAID FOR A WORK AT AUCTION Beverly Hills Housewife (sold for US$7 million in 2009)
EARLIEST PAINTING SOLD Portrait of My Father (sold for £50 in 1955)
LARGEST WORK Bigger Trees Near Water (2006) on 50 canvasses
HONOUR REFUSED A knighthood
HONOUR ACCEPTED Companion of Honour; plus, he was just awarded the Order of Merit, the UK's highest civil honour. It is bestowed by the Queen and is not a part of the New Year Honours drawn up by the prime minister's office.
PHYSICAL ODDITY He has synaesthesia - he sees music as colour.
CONTROVERSY In his 2001 book, Secret Knowledge, he argued that many Old Masters used camera obscuras.