He says he likes to do it in his car, or in bed, at dawn. He works at it by practicing writing very big and very small, by zooming in on still life subjects and sending flower doodles to his friends before they’re awake. For his efforts, he’s hailed as an early adopter, an agent of the new or inspirer of complaints about a medium incapable of authenticity, though the Brushes app has handily lived in the toolkit of designers and commercial artists since inception.
At the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, 79-year-old David Hockney’s work of the last ten years hangs like a manufacturing line: eye-level rows of iPhones and iPads, glowing cheerfully with a promise of intimacy and detail. These illusions mimic the aliveness of brush-toil and atmospheric depth but, at nose-length, as swipes of stylus and fingertip, they morph into characterless, posterized wobbles. Some are near-perfect in their slickness — others are animated to show the building progression of a drawing. In spite of this modernity, unveiled are the marks of a master draftsman and composition builder.
“But is it painting?” I mumble, dragging my knuckles into an adjoining room hung with oversized inkjet printouts — wall-to-wall grids of blown-up landscapes originally born at iPhone size. “Must I yearn for evidence of analog grit? What’s wrong with digital joy? What am I longing for?” I studied the colour bounce of a deadly phthalo green and magenta and scanned its smoothness for painterly life. “In the end nobody knows how it’s done — how art is made. It can’t be explained. Optical devices are just tools. Understanding a tool doesn’t explain the magic of creation. Nothing can.” (David Hockney)
PS: “Any artist will tell you he’s really only interested in the stuff he’s doing now. He will, always. It’s true, and it should be like that.” (David Hockney)
Esoterica: David Hockney was born in 1937 in Bradford, England and studied at Royal College of Art in London, where he forged with fellow students a new movement called “Pop.” After a few visits to California in the early ’60s, he bought a house in Nichols Canyon in Los Angeles and set up what would be, along with homes in England and Malibu, a lifelong studio. Hockney has painted en plein air, portraiture, landscapes and abstraction, made prints, photo collages and designed sets for theatre and opera. He’s also pursued in his art a passion to trace the role of technology in art from the use of a 15th century optical device, called camera lucida, to slide projection, video cameras, LEDs and the now ubiquitous, democratizing iPhone. “I’ve been able to practice the iPad a lot in the last few years… and I’ve really loved mastering it.” (David Hockney)
“What an artist is trying to do for people is bring them closer to something, because of course art is about sharing: you wouldn’t be an artist if you didn’t want to share an experience, a thought.” (David Hockney)