iHockney and iPad drawings: gimmick or greatness?

There’s a lot I could say about the David Hockney: A Bigger Picture blockbuster exhibition at the RA if I let my inner art historian geek out of its closely guarded box. But for now I shall keep it incarcerated and focus on just one aspect of the exhibition – the (notorious?) iPad ‘paintings’.

I was aware that Hockney has recently created drawings using the iPad. I vaguely remembered I needed to look out for them in the exhibition, but then I got distracted by canvases and canvases of the Yorkshire Dales; paintings which got better from room to room and as the years moved on.

Henri Matisse, Icarus (Jazz), 1947 (cut paper)

Henri Matisse, Icarus (Jazz), 1947 (cut paper)

Back to the iPad art. I have to admit, despite loving art and technology, to me the iPad ‘paintings’ sounded like a bit of a gimmick. However, whilst thinking this, my inner art historian geek (or dual personality, if you’re being critical) leapt out of its box and to Hockney’s defence. It assured me that, to the contrary, this was a great artist trying his hand at an unorthodox medium late in his career, much like Henri Matisse with the beautiful paper cut outs that he created from his hospital bed.

But Hockney is hardly on his hospital bed and I’m sure he can still hold a paintbrush. Clearly I needed to see some of the images myself to reach a real opinion.

Looking at the wall-mounted iPads in the exhibition I cynically wondered if it was the latest attempt to digitise art galleries, bringing the ornate gold frames of the past creaking into the 21st century. Yet as I walked into the final room of the exhibition I was greeted by wall length murals of Yosemite national park: waterfalls and bright colours and diffused, misty light. They were about 12 foot high. But what were they painted with?

Well, as this post is called ‘iHockney’ I have already rather given the game away. The murals were, of course, huge blown up versions of Hockney’s iPad drawings. But the effect was not what I would have expected. Not having read the sign, I couldn’t work out what the images were ‘painted’ with: the flat effect was almost like stencilled, sprayed canvases by urban artists. But not quite. Thinner lines of even, matte colour sliced across the bottom of the images in a way that looked familiar but that I couldn’t define. The colours looked familiar too. Ones I’d seen on my computer screen… maybe?

[I’m afraid I can’t find the iPad drawings of Yosemite National Park anywhere online, and was too afraid of the gallery staff to take some illicit snaps! Will hopefully find some later – in the meantime see his iPad drawings of Yorkshire below]

I found the effect intriguing and beautiful. The slightly computerised pixellation had been reappropriated successfully by Hockney to convey the spray, and there are many other positive things I could say about it.

So are these images less ‘art’ because they were created digitally? Not at all. You can still see the hand of the artist in every ‘brushstroke’ (and even if you couldn’t, photography can be art – although the jury’s still out on much ‘conceptual’!) Nor can I agree that Hockney has pushed his new medium just that little bit too far. As distinctions between ‘normal’ analogue life and digital continue to blur, we will see more and more examples like this of pure creativity using purely digital materials. It’s not a gimmick; in the right hand it can be greatness.

Hockney: The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire, 2011 (iPad drawing)

Hockney: The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire, 2011 (iPad dra


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