In 2009, famous pop artist David Hockney began using his iPhone to create new drawings, usually of objects and scenes from his everyday life. Though he originally became known for his paintings in the 1960s featuring a swimming pool motif, Hockney has been experimenting with new forms of artistic media since the 1980s when he created a series of photographic collages. When the iPad was released in 2010, Hockney’s digital landscapes and drawings became more prolific, eventually leading to full exhibitions of the artist’s work created on handheld devices. Rather than creating distance between the artist and artwork, as digitized works can, the artist’s iPhone and iPad drawings are some of his most deeply personal pieces.
David Hockney’s Striking Self Portrait (2012)
Some of the most striking and interesting works out of David Hockney’s digital drawings are his self-portraits. He created many self-portraits throughout his career, beginning in his teenage years, but these iPad drawings represent the latest iterations. Through his self-portraits, he explores his longtime fascination with the theme of the artist as a subject. In these, David Hockney frequently subjects himself to intense scrutiny and showcases his personality to the viewers.
Self Portrait, 20 March 2012 (1219) is one example of these remarkable digital self-portraits. In the drawing, Hockney’s blue eyes are a piercing centerpiece, and a cigarette hangs from his lips. Hockney often includes cigarettes in his depictions of himself, an example of his aforementioned self-scrutiny and a symbol of the domesticity of habit. In creating this piece on an iPad, he captured his own image with a casual skillfulness, to which his chosen medium lends itself well.
From Tiny Screen to Huge Impact: Hockney’s iPhone Lilies (2009)
Though David Hockney’s current digital medium of choice is the iPad, he has also created many works on his iPhone over the years. Through an app called Brushes Redux, he frequently creates quick drawings of flowers on his phone as a continuation of the domestic themes in the rest of his digital work. I draw flowers every day on my iPhone and send them to my friends, so they get fresh flowers every morning. And my flowers last, Hockney once said.
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One example of these floral drawings is Lilies (2009), drawn on an iPhone. In art, lilies often symbolize innocence, purity, and devotion, such as in Monet’s iconic Water Lilies. Hockney’s Lilies emphasizes this through its almost primitive execution and depiction of the flowers through simple means.
A New Series: The Yosemite Suite (2010)
In 2010, David Hockney visited Yosemite National Park in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains and decided to bring his iPad along with him in lieu of traditional art supplies. The result was The Yosemite Suite (2010), a beautiful series of paintings depicting the sights Hockney saw on his trip. Because the iPad is such a portable device, the artist was able to capture many different scenes without having to take the time to set up an easel or pull out a sketchpad.
Untitled No. 14 from The Yosemite Suite (2010) is an almost psychedelic depiction of a tree in the forest which allows the viewer to clearly see the individual strokes of Hockney’s brush. Though this piece is a depiction of something he saw in real life, we see psychologically, according to Hockney. In this case, he used the iPad as a tool to quickly and easily depict his own interpretation of the wonders he saw at Yosemite.
A Callback to Previous Work: Montcalm Interior (2010)
In his 2010 iPad drawing titled Montcalm Interior, Hockney brings attention back to the domestic themes he has explored in much of his digital work. This piece in particular is, among others, a variation on his 1988 painting Montcalm Interior with Two Dogs, which was created and exhibited in a more traditional manner than his iPad work. He has owned a home on Montcalm Avenue in the Hollywood Hills area of Los Angeles since 1979, and he often features its interior in some of his most personal paintings. Though many of Hockney’s iPhone and iPad pieces are more simplistic in nature than his paintings, Montcalm Interior exhibits a higher level of formal artistic execution and beautifully captures the luxe atmosphere of the artist’s Los Angeles home.
The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire (2011)
After the great artistic success of The Yosemite Suite, Hockney continued bringing his iPad with him into nature and illustrating beautiful digital landscapes. The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire (2011) is part of another iPad series that chronicles the change of the seasons in East Yorkshire, where Hockney grew up. This piece in particular depicts springtime in the forest in a stunning yet simple light. Though the iPad was still a relatively new medium for the artist at this point, he continued with themes of change in nature that were present in his work from the beginning.
Classic Inspiration: The Arrival of Spring, Normandy (2020)
Claude Monet has been apparent as an inspiration in much of Hockney’s iPad works over the years, but his series of 116 drawings titled The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020 makes this even clearer. For this series, David Hockney used his iPad to illustrate nature’s changes throughout the arrival of spring 2020 at his home in Normandy. Monet famously illustrated the changes in lighting and nature throughout the seasons near his home in Giverny, just outside of Normandy, and Hockney’s 2020 series can be seen as an extrapolation of those works. No. 258, April 2020 by David Hockney (2020) is a masterful digitization of plein air impressionism. Having explored iPad painting for over a decade before creating this work, Hockney exhibits more traditional techniques in this piece while still benefiting from the practical convenience of the handheld device.
No. 340, 21st May 2020 by David Hockney (2020) is a painting in The Arrival of Spring, Normandy series which takes the Monet parallels to another level. This painting has the same subject matter as Monet’s Water Lilies series, and though Hockney employed a digital approach, his mastery of light, color, and reflection lives up to his inspiration. Here, we can truly see the soaring heights Hockney’s mastery of the iPad reaches.
In this series, Hockney elected to name each painting after the specific date on which it was painted in order to highlight the serial nature of the work. Many of these drawings were created when Hockney was isolated on his Normandy property during lockdown, but the work draws upon the quiet hope present in our natural world rather than focusing on loneliness or fear. David Hockney brings the long-standing artistic tradition of painting the French countryside into the digital age.
From Digital to Physical: Exhibitions of Hockney’s iPad Work
Rather than allowing the digital form to hinder or create a barrier in his artistic process, Hockney’s iPad works have proven themselves to be some of his most personal. Though these works were created on a handheld device, they can easily be printed out on high-quality paper and displayed at an exhibition. Many have questioned what the digital age will mean for the value of art, but Hockney’s masterful iPad drawings are unique and often sell for large amounts at auctions. Though anyone can pick up an iPhone or iPad and create their own artwork these days, Hockney embraces the medium fully and does not consider himself to be above the masses.
Since he has created such a large body of digital work over the last decade, many have wondered whether Hockney will begin to sell his drawings as NFTs or non-fungible tokens. However, Hockney seems to have a distaste for the digital art marketplace, saying NFTs are for international crooks and swindlers. Some of Hockney’s most famous paintings have been sold for amounts greater than the most expensive NFTs, and clearly, he feels that the level of craft required to create his works is fundamentally different from NFTs. David Hockney is an innovator who is not afraid to try new artistic mediums, but he also keeps a certain level of traditionalism throughout his work.