David Hockney was in the Boy Scouts (motto: “Be Prepared”), so he points out that in tailoring terms he was ready for the advent of the iPad.
One of the tricky aspects of this new Apple Inc. device -- intermediate between a cell phone and a laptop in size -- is the difficulty of carrying it about. Hockney, though, has always had his suits made with a large internal jacket pocket for carrying sketch books.
He demonstrates by opening the natty, paint-stained charcoal-striped number he’s wearing. Within there’s a pouch of the kind in which poachers used to hide game. This is where he tucks his iPad.
In fact, he’s using this portable hi-tech gizmo in much the way he used to employ a pad of paper. It’s his latest drawing medium. A couple of weeks ago, I got a text from him reading: “I have got an iPad, what a joy! Van Gogh would have loved it, and he could have written his letters on it as well.”
“I do love it, I must admit,” Hockney, 72, confirms. “I thought the iPhone was great when I bought one the year before last, but this takes it to a new level. It’s a new medium, eight times the size of the iPhone.”
The change in scale has altered the way that Hockney can work. After he bought his first iPhone, he began producing a stream of drawings on it that eventually amounted to hundreds.
Art for Free
They dropped into the inboxes of his acquaintances -- direct, lyrical images of flowers and landscapes seen through his bedroom window. This was art for free, which is radical in itself. The art market has worked out ways to charge even for conceptual art, but so far not for these images.
“I draw flowers every day and send them to my friends so they get fresh blooms every morning,” Hockney told Bloomberg last April. “And my flowers last!” These were executed with his thumb on the iPhone screen. “Who would have thought that the telephone would bring back drawing?” he said.
The iPad screen now allows him to make images of greater scale and complexity. Instead of just using one finger, he finds himself drawing with all of them. Is that more difficult than using a conventional pencil, brush or pen? “In a way, it’s faster,” he says. “I can change color or the width of the mark very rapidly on this, quicker than with an ordinary computer.”
Another difference between both the iPad and iPhone and conventional drawing media is that the former are luminous. Thus, in a way they resemble stained glass or mosaic, which reflect light. This led Hockney toward certain themes. “The fact that it’s illuminated makes you choose luminous subjects, or at least I did: the sunrise, for example, and flower vases with water in them that catch reflections.”
“I realized when I was doing the sunrises last year that it was partly because the iPhone was beside my bed when I woke up,” he says. “But if I’d only had a pencil and paper there I probably wouldn’t have chosen to make pictures of the dawn.”
Hockney also has discovered that the iPad can replay every move his finger makes, as he demonstrates to me. Lines snake across the screen, patches of color appear and disappear if he decides to erase them. This is something novel.
“I’ve realized,” he says, “that I can do performances.” So watch out next for Hockney drawings -- in motion.
(Martin Gayford is chief art critic for Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are his own.)