How the iPhone and iPad transformed the art of David Hockney

British artist David Hockney is the focus of a major exhibit at the De Young Museum in San Francisco that explores the past decade of his work.

It’s been an extremely busy decade for the 76-year-old artist, who is known for his paintings, drawings, prints and photography. Hockney spends much of his time at his second home in the Los Angeles area.

The exhbition, called “A Bigger Picture,” is massive, the museum’s largest ever. It opened Saturday and runs through Jan. 20, 2014. It covers 18,000 square feet, and features 398 pieces total.

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Of those, 78 were made in 2013, which shows how prolific he remains. Museum officials said Hockney was making new works that were being shipped to the museum before the paint was dried. And many came so late that they couldn’t be included in the exhibit’s official catalog.


While the exhibit features many of his prints and water colors, it also emphasizes just how central technology has been to the way Hockney works and creates.

In particular, his use of the iPhone and later the iPad to do sketches has transformed his process. The exhibit includes 147 iPhone and iPad drawings that are shown on a rotating basis on nine screens.

According to the audio tour for the exhibit:

“Hockney has always been keen to discover and explore new technologies as soon as they became available. In the early days of the photocopier, Canon would send him experimental cartridges just to see what he’d do with them. His fax collages conjured something inspired out of a seemingly dull piece of office equipment.”

In one corner of the exhibit, there’s a handful of paintings from a series called, “A Bigger Message.” The paintings are a tribute to Baroque-era French artist Claude Lorrain’s “Sermon on the Mount.” Hockney admired the painting in the Frick Collection in New York, but felt it was too dark and in need of cleaning.

Hockney obtained a digital print from the Frick, and then began brightening it using Adobe Photoshop. Once he achieved a cleaner look, Hockney used that digital image as the basis for a series of 30 paintings.

But as much as he embraced such tools, the iPhone and iPad have had an even bigger effect on him.

“I do think it is a new medium,” he said of the iPhone and iPad during a question and answer session with the press at the museum last week. “I found it more interesting than Photoshop because you can pick up a color from another color. And you can work very fast. And that’s something every draftsman is interested in.”

He also loved the mobility. When the iPhone, with its brushes app, was released, Hockney was enthusiastic, making sketches with his thumbs. But when the iPad came out, with its larger screen, he got one right away.

It was bigger, but it still fit into the pockets he had sown into his jackets for his sketchbook. And now, when he traveled out doors and was inpired to make a sketch, he no longer needed to lug around boxes of drawing pencils and paints.

“His use of the iPad has gone way beyond sketching on the screen to become a core part of his creative process,” says the audio tour.

Here are some samples of his iPad drawings from the exhibit:

And here’s a glimpse of an iPad drawing as it comes together:

As much as Hockney loved his iPad sketches, it was another year before one of his technical assistant showed him some new printing technologies that would allow him to do even more with the tablet.

“There’s a printing revolution going on,” Hockney said.

The more sophisticated printers allowed him to transfer digital images from the iPad and print them on a huge scale without becoming pixelated.

In a series called “The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011,” Hockney printed portions of sketches on four large sheets of paper which were then put together into one large print. The final print was almost 8 feet high.

Here’s his season series of Woldgate made on the iPad and then printed:

While the iPad and iPhone have been critical to Hockney, the exhibit also features work done using laser and inkjet printers and digital video.

In one room, there are four installations of nine screens each that show loops of video shot from a lane in Woldgate Woods.

To achieve the effect, Hockney mounted nine video cameras on an SUV and had an assistant drive slowly down the lane. Hockney made one version of the video for each season. At the museum, each season’s video is shown in a continuous loop on nine LED screens that are facing one another in a room.

Hockney said he’s constantly in search of what he called a “wider perspective” and believes the ongoing series of multicamera videos is helping achieve that.

“I’ve always known there’s something wrong with perspective,” Hockney said. “The camera is the ultimate purveyor of perspective.”


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