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David Hockney's iPad Art

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© David Hockney

David Hockney reinvents art on the iPad.

These days I can usually tell where David Hockney is, what kind of weather he’s getting and maybe even how he’s feeling. Not from words, mind you, but from pictures that regularly show up in my inbox, drawings the artist has created on his iPad using an app called Brushes. Last September, when the images were of fir trees, steep slopes and mountain peaks, I guessed—correctly—that he was in Yosemite National Park. Earlier this year, after he’d been in bed with the flu, a picture of a foot on the floor beside a slipper indicated he was well enough to get up.

“The great thing about the iPad,” Hockney says, “is that it’s like a sketchbook, but you have everything you need with you all the time.” He tends to document his surroundings—the view from his window, his bathroom shelf, landscapes he visits, his dog, friends, anything that catches his attention—and the result is a sort of visual diary.

He sends me the drawings as part of an ongoing series of exchanges we’ve been having since 2006. Our conversations, conducted in person, over e-mail and by phone and text, are the subject of a book I’m writing, to be published by Thames & Hudson this fall. But I’m far from the only recipient of the 73-year-old artist’s creations, as he routinely sends them to friends. Most days he might even do several of them, most dashed off in five, maybe ten minutes.

Hockney has worked in many styles and media over the past five decades. In the 1960s his cool, witty paintings of Los Angeles life, which were often associated with Pop art but were really too personal and idiosyncratic for that label, quickly brought him international fame. In the ’70s and ’80s, at the same time he was designing brilliant productions for the Metropolitan Opera and Covent Garden, he was also creating photo collages and pioneering work with early computer drawing programs and then-new gadgets such as the fax.

These days Hockney spends most of his time in the little seaside resort of Bridlington on Britain’s northeast coast, a couple of hours from Bradford, the town in which he was born. He relocated there in 2003 after 20 years in the Hollywood Hills, though he retains a house and a studio in Los Angeles. His work since then has been extreme in both ambition and contrast. Using an approach that dates back to the days of the Impressionists—painting outdoors in front of an easel—Hockney has created multipanel landscapes that are epic in scale. At the same time, he’s used 21st-century technology to make digital drawings as small as medieval miniatures. He is one of the first artists (and certainly the most famous) to seriously explore the possibilities of drawing on touch screens.

Starting with the iPhone in late 2008 and switching to the iPad a little more than a year later, Hockney has created hundreds of digital drawings. Though he doesn’t sell the works, he exhibits them. Some 400, displayed on multiple iPhones and iPads, were featured in a show at the Pierre Bergé–Yves Saint Laurent Foundation in Paris last fall, and roughly the same number are currently on view, through August 28, at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, near Copenhagen, Denmark. (The show’s curator, Charlie Scheips, is also working on a book about the drawings.) The show’s Paris title, “Fleurs Fraîches” (in Denmark it’s called “Me Draw on iPad”), refers to the fact that many of the initial iPad drawings were of flowers, of roses, lilacs or lilies placed in a vase on Hockney’s bedroom windowsill by his partner, John Fitzherbert. “I drew in bed because I’ve got this lovely window, and the flowers were there and the light was changing,” Hockney says.

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