David Hockney: art meets app

The renowned painter, printmaker and opera set designer moves from paper to pixels for his latest exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum.

By Heather Camlot

“Who would have thought the telephone could bring back drawing?”

Artist David Hockney may have been joking in the introduction to his new exhibition, Fresh Flowers: Drawings on the iPhone and iPad, but he’s also on to something. The show – at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum from October 8, 2011 to January 1, 2012 – is not only the return of drawing, but the return of Hockney’s work to Canada after some 20 years and the return of the centuries-old question: what is art?

Projected pixels

“Technology is playing an ever bigger part in our lives,” noted Janet Carding, director and CEO of the ROM during a recent press conference. “Fresh Flowers allows us to examine its influence on art and its influence on museums.”

The exhibition features some 100 iPhone drawings displayed on 20 iPod Touches and 100 iPad drawings displayed on 20 iPads. Also included are two films about the working process, eight large-scale animated projections of recent iPad drawings and a nine-minute triptych slide show of 169 images.

Animated brushstrokes

While the works are wonderfully colourful and rendered images of everything from flowers and plants, to portraits, to landscapes and still lifes, it’s the process – and how it can be replayed as animation – that is perhaps the most intriguing. Where once upon a time watching an artist’s creative process – every little thought, every little detail, every little sweep of the hand and brush – meant a removed view via documentary film (or a lucky insider view from within the artist’s studio), with the iPad application used by Hockney, it’s all up close and in person, virtually speaking of course.

When he started out on the iPhone in 2008, Hockney used an app called Brushes (US/CA), which allows him to use his thumb and fingers to draw, modify colour, add layers and alter the width and opacity of his “brushes.” When the iPad was introduced in April 2010, Hockney tested the new device as well – the bigger screen and stylus meant more complex works. The Brushes app (US/CA) also got an upgrade, to include a recording feature that documents every single stroke.  “Hockney had never seen himself draw before,” explained Francisco Alvarez, managing director of the ROM’s Institute for Contemporary Culture.  Welcome to the technological age.

Emailing it in

Another intriguing technology-driven feature is that each of the devices have their own personal email address – Hockney can send new images as he creates them, ensuring that the exhibit may very well be different for those who see it at the beginning and end of its run.

Add the fact that Fresh Flowers is the ROM’s first WiFi-enabled exhibition – visitors can share their experiences online in real time – and you’ve got a show that pushes the boundaries of multiple mediums.

“This show is not just about technology. It’s about imagination, creativity and inspiration,” remarked the exhibition’s curator, Charlie Scheips. Indeed, Fresh Flowers is, its simplest form, a fresh art movement – led by an artist who’s been creating works on paper, canvas, and stage for over five decades.  But you can’t deny the power of technology. “I have no doubt that the iPad will disrupt and change a lot of things,” Hockney writes. “This must be one of the first exhibitions emailed to museums around the world.”

First published October 6, 2011, on WorkLivePlayCafe.com.


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