an exhibition of drawings on the iPod and iPad
on exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum
Oct. 8, 2011 to Jan 1, 2012
David Hockney's North American premier of his exhibit Fresh Flowers: Drawings on iPhones and iPads is presented by the Institute for Contemporary Culture at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto until New Years Day, 2012. In the exhibit are over 100 iPhone sketches and 100 iPad drawings wall-mounted on actual iPods and iPads located in the Roloff Beny Gallery in a space designed by Ali Tayar in collaboration with Mr. Hockney. Two films and a number of slideshows are also projected onto the wall showing other works as well as records of the actual drawing processes of some pieces.
David Hockney discovered the Brushes app on his iPhone in 2008 and moved onto the iPad in 2010. What struck Hockney then, and is most notable for the future of art now, is the ability of these devices to transmit the artworks to their audience as soon as they are done.
“I was aware immediately when I started drawing on the iPhone that it was not only a new medium but also a very new way to distribute pictures,” says Hockney. “I have always been an advocate of drawing. I always thought the teaching of drawing was the teaching of looking - very good for everybody! I joked about it - who would have thought the telephone could bring back drawing? One quickly realizes that it is a luminous medium and very good for luminous subjects. I began to draw the sunrise seen from my bed on the east coast of England. The iPhone was by my bed; it contained every thing you needed; no mess; so you didn’t even have to clean up. I wouldn’t have drawn the sunrise with just a pencil and a piece of paper. It was the luminosity of the screen that connected me to it.”
Hockney emails his drawings to his friends as they are finished, and enjoys the almost immediate feedback from them. The drawings become the impetus to a conversation and facilitate human interaction; they are a traditional art form re-figured for social media in the technological world. The change implicit in this mundane act is revolutionary, and will change the traditional art distribution model as surely as the book publishing industry has been changed by the same tools.
|Alexander Calder Mobile by the Sea|
More has, and will, be said about Hockney's use of the technological media in this exhibit. A good example of the ideas covered can be found in his interview with Jian Ghomeshi on CBC Radio Studio Q which is the soundtrack for the following video showing David Hockney producing the above drawing of an Alexander Calder sculpture in front of the sea.
Of course after about five minutes most people stop marveling at the fact that the works are done on iPods and iPads and move on to the quality of the drawings themselves. Of course liking David Hockney's work is easy, since they are so accessible, but just to help you along I'll pick a few and make some comments on them.
In an exhibit entitled 'Fresh Flowers' one obviously sees a lot of flower drawings, the one above being an iPhone drawing of red flowers in a window. Windows appear a lot in these works, and are an appropriate visual rhyme for the screen of the iPod itself, which serves as a frame after the drawing is made. The light coming through the window is similar to the luminescence of the powered screen and allows Hockney to create believable light effects as well. Smaller works done on the phone size screens look more like sketches than the larger works but artists have been doing paint sketches on panels for centuries.
When the drawings move up to the iPad in 2010 there is more room to get detail and the Brushes app carries a zoom-in ability which allows for precise control of the lines, look at the size of the white swirls that indicate reflections on the metal at the lower right corner compared to the size of the lines that make the shadow and grey of the pipe they are on. If you look at the wood on the window frame you will notice different variations of the frame colour that are done using the brush transparency controls. On the blue drape the various shades are applied like an impasto, giving the curtain a palpable thickness next to the slats and transparency of the glass.
The Brushes app on the iPod lets you pick up a colour that is already on the drawing with the eyedropper tool then adjust the hue and saturation just as if you were mixing the paint itself on your palette. It is a quick way to get many changes in a plane, the way Hockney did here with the blue background curtain to make it look like it was drawn over the lit window. The same blue of the curtain was picked up again to appear on the silver surface of the fruit stand. This particular drawing is one of my favourites simply because of the masterful handling of the silver surface. When seen on the lit iPod screen it scintillates.
This drawing of an arched bathroom window is atypical for the window pieces in the show, but in explanation the plants, brickwork and light are southwestern US. Again the variety of strokes from thin to thick and their different colours make each area on the surface stand out distinctly. Look at the lower right corner here and notice how Hockney has created a transparent mouthwash bottle with just a few areas of well-chosen colour laid down in exquisitely placed strokes. The shapes and line placement seem to be "written" rather than "drawn" or "painted". Hockney, after a lifetime of working with real brushes, pencils, sticks of charcoal and other palpable tools, unconsciously brings his penmanship into play when working with a stylus on the screen. Even though the Brushes app can create an approximation of a brush stroke it takes a lot of practice to spontaneously use the stylus as if it were a real brush. Still, I am not too sure that a CG artist who has never used normal art tools at all could replicate the touch of traditional media with as much authority as David Hockney does.
On October 20, 2011 Bo and I were given the privilege of meeting Mr. Hockney at the #ROMFreshFlowers tweetup held by the Institute for Contemporary Culture at the ROM. He dropped in for ten minutes to meet about a score of social media users before going on to see Rigoletto. Considering he had not even planned to come to Toronto, we were fortunate to have the opportunity to see him at all. Even though I was able to get his autograph on my smartphone I will not be pasting it into a scrapbook. That's the thing with electronic media: things done on them don't really exist in the way we have become used to them existing, yet they still carry the same meaning they always have.
I am most thankful to the excellent people at the ROM, especially curator Charlie Schiep for bringing this exhibit to Toronto, Francisco Alvarez, @ICCattheROM and @blogTO for this opportunity. The only other hope I could have would be that one day I would open my email and discover that Mr. Hockney has added me to his contact list.
October 23, 2011