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David Hockney's friends in art: the iPad and iPhone

The artist's ever-ready devices are instant drawing pads, always by his side.

January 23, 2011|By Barbara Isenberg, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • "Untitled, 2 January 2011, 1" by David Hockney. He drew this on his iPad.
"Untitled, 2 January 2011, 1" by David Hockney. He drew this… (© David Hockney )

Reporting from Bridlington, England — — David Hockney may be pretty isolated here in Yorkshire, some four hours by train from London, but that's the way he likes it. Ensconced near the quiet rural landscape he's immortalized in paintings and watercolors, he has more time not only to draw but to experiment with new ways of making art.

"We think we're way ahead here," he confides. "We need this little remote place to be observant about the medium."

The art-making medium he's using most often these days is the iPad, brother to the iPhone, which he took up earlier. Whether he's lying in bed or driving through snow-covered woods, his ever-ready iPhone and iPad are instant drawing pads, always by his side. The electronic duo keeps him in touch with not only his craft but a small group of friends and colleagues who regularly receive his colorful missives of landscapes, flowers, cap or ashtray.

He is 73, his trademark blond hair now gray, but few people are as curious and willing to try new things as David Hockney. At his enormous studio on what he calls "the Pico Boulevard of Bridlington," Hockney is still painting the colorful canvases that made him famous. But as he simultaneously draws on luminous electronic surfaces and experiments with multiscreen video projections, he is assembling people and resources to take him and his art into the future.

Where better to do so than the seaside resort of Bridlington, long home to the Hockney family and just 60 miles from where he was born? "Bridlington is a tiny, sleepy, tranquil place of only about 30,000 people," says Hockney. "It's a great place to work. You don't have anything else to think about, and it's awkward to get to from London."

Those who make the journey arrive at a tiny train station just five minutes from his house. Hockney himself is out front, smiling and welcoming, swathed in corduroys, paint-splattered designer suit jacket, yellow cashmere scarf and cap against the winter cold. The seat warmers are already on in the silver Lexus out front, and he is talking excitedly about his projects even before he's out of the parking lot.

First stop is his ultra-modern studio — at 10,000 square feet, many times larger than his Hollywood studio. The studio is so big that Hockney, his staff and sometimes his visitors travel around the space in wheelchairs to have a seat handy to ponder a painting, print or museum exhibition model. Even temporary walls hung with art are on wheels.

He was originally just looking for storage space, Hockney says, but he couldn't resist the fabulous light and 17-foot-high ceilings. "I signed a five-year lease on this place, with a five-year renewal," Hockney laughs. "I'll be in my 80s then! But when I signed it, I felt 20 years younger."

The studio is so full of Hockney artworks, all of them created within the last year, that the eye isn't sure where to look first. On one wall are huge Hockney variations on Claude Lorrain's "Sermon on the Mount" made to the exact dimensions of the original painting housed at New York's Frick Collection. A few feet away is a similarly large 20-part canvas, 12 feet high and 20 feet wide, of nearby Woldgate Woods in full spring flowering, plus iPad drawings of Yosemite, reproduced and enlarged by Hockney's assistant, Jean-Pierre Gonçalves de Lima.

"What fascinates me is not just technology but the technology of picture-making," says Hockney. "I spend more time painting, of course, but I treat the iPad as a serious tool. The iPad is influencing the paintings now with its boldness and speed."

One discovery feeds the next. From photography he moved onto photo collages and experiments with office copy machines — cameras of another kind. His fax art allowed him to send exhibition artworks over telephone lines much as he recently e-mailed an exhibition worth of iPhone and iPad drawings to an art gallery at Paris' Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent (where "David Hockney: Fleurs Fraîches" is on view until Jan. 30.) "Who would have thought the telephone could bring back drawing?" Hockney asks in the Paris show's catalog.

Hockney's iPhone art began in 2008. A rotating group of about 30 friends, curators, dealers and writers regularly receive his e-mailed artworks, and the artist even urged his friends first to get iPhones, then iPads to archive the continuing e-mails. According to Gonçalves de Lima, Hockney has already sent out nearly 400 e-mail drawings on his iPhone and 300 more on his iPad.

"I had to get an iPad so I could receive the drawings on the same platform he used to make them," observes Stephanie Barron, senior curator of modern art at Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Barron, who has already curated three major Hockney shows for the museum, printed out about 20 iPad drawings for her office walls and often uses them as screensavers.

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