David Hockney’s iPhone Passion

David Hockney
Three images by David Hockney—a self-portrait, a still life, and a summer dawn—made with the Brushes application on his iPhone, 2009

After two decades of regularly finding himself caught up in all sorts of seemingly extraneous side-passions (photocollages, operatic stage design, fax extravaganzas, homemade photocopier print runs, a controversial revisionist art-historical investigation, and a watercolor idyll), David Hockney, now age seventy-two, has finally taken to painting once again, doing so, over the past three or four years, with a vividness and a sheer productivity perhaps never before seen in his career. This recent body of work consists almost entirely of seasonal landscapes of the rolling hills, hedgerows, tree stands, valley wolds, and farm fields surrounding the somewhat déclassé onetime summer seaside resort of Bridlington, England, on the North Sea coast, where he now lives. Some are intimately scaled but many are among the largest, most ambitious canvases of his entire career.

The paintings have been widely exhibited—in London (at the Tate and the Royal Academy), in Los Angeles, a broad overview in a small museum in Germany this past summer—though not yet in New York, a situation that will be rectified in late October by a major show, his first there in ten years, slated to take up both the uptown and downtown spaces at PaceWildenstein.1 The buildup toward these shows has found Hockney busier than ever (he is still in the process of completing a dozen fresh canvases as I write), but not so busy that he hasn’t managed to become fascinated by yet another new (and virtually diametrically opposite) technology, one that he is pursuing with almost as much verve and fascination: drawing on his iPhone.

Hockney first became interested in iPhones about a year ago (he grabbed the one I happened to be using right out of my hands). He acquired one of his own and began using it as a high-powered reference tool, searching out paintings on the Web and cropping appropriate details as part of the occasional polemics or appreciations with which he is wont to shower his friends.

But soon he discovered one of those newfangled iPhone applications, entitled Brushes, which allows the user digitally to smear, or draw, or fingerpaint (it’s not yet entirely clear what the proper verb should be for this novel activity), to create highly sophisticated full-color images directly on the device’s screen, and then to archive or send them out by e-mail. Essentially, the Brushes application gives the user a full color-wheel spectrum, from which he can choose a specific color. He can then modify that color’s hue along a range of darker to lighter, and go on to fill in the entire backdrop of the screen in that color, or else fashion subsequent brushstrokes, variously narrower or thicker, and more or less transparent, according to need, by dragging his finger across the screen,…

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