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."