Hockney always criticised photography, saying that it caused many of today’s artists to forsake figurative art, he says, “A camera cannot see what a human can see, there is always something missing”, and refers to the inability of a camera to reproduce a sense of space and volume. “A photograph records a split second in time, but a painting or sculpture is in fact a culmination of days, weeks, or even years, of looking at a single subject. It is the result of a vast quantity of stored information, experience, sketches, and spacial sensitivity that finally appears in one final work of art.”
But in the mid 1960s Hockney started experimenting with the camera and found a way to overcome the shortcomings of photography with his innovative “joiners” or “photo-collages.” These are large assemblages of photographs which create a complete picture from a series of individually photographed details that produce an almost cubist effect. With his joiners Hockney managed to use photography to create a more complete representation of a landscape, portrait, or still life, which incorporated time and volume into the final product.
In the 80s Hockney embraced the new technologies of Xerox machines and the Quantel Paintbox. With the same curiosity he began to experiment with the Fax machine, which he was fascinated with, calling it “the wonderful machine, the enemy of totalitarianism, the return of handwritten letters.” He sent whole exhibitions by fax to be printed out and assembled on arrival and in 1989 he sent work for the Sao Paulo Biennial by fax.
Hockney showed interest in computers in the past, but not until recently has he started to incorporate them in his practice, he says the speed of modern computers makes working with them far more attractive. So Hockney’s adoption of the iPad and iPhone is the natural next step in his interest in using technology to develop and explore art.
In the last few years he has left his home in LA and settled in Bridlington, he says “Bridlington may be physically isolated, but it’s not electronically isolated. The technology is as good here as it is in LA.” When the exhibition at the Royal Academy had first been discussed four years ago, Hockney had never even heard of an iPad, let alone worked with one. Nowadays he is rarely without his iPad, which functions as a sketchpad, full-sized canvas, and convenient device for sending e-mails. “It’s like an endless piece of paper that perfectly fitted the feeling I had that painting should be big,”
Hockney is so enamoured of this new technology he goes so far as to say, “Picasso would have gone mad with this. So would Van Gogh. I don’t know any artist who wouldn’t actually.” Hockney feels it’s a real privilege to be making these works of art through digital tools “which means you don’t have the bother of water, paints, and the chore of clearing things away.”
He prefers to use his fingers rather than a stylus, giving him the freedom to create different effects with each finger, and even though he is right-handed, he often uses his left hand when drawing on the iPad, giving his drawings a new quality. He says, “You know sometimes I get carried away, I wipe my fingers at the end thinking that I’ve got paint on them.”
It is wonderful and exciting to see such a mature artist as Hockney tackling these new technologies with such enthusiasm and success. As with his experimentation with Xerox and Fax machines, his work with the iPad brings up questions about the nature of “originals” and “reproductions”, and the value – both aesthetic and monetary – of a work of art. However this does not appear to deter Hockney, who is, above all, interested in stretching the boundaries of his artistic practice.