Saturday, January 21, 2012

Art Revolution: David Hockney's "A Bigger Picture"

“Who would have thought that the telephone would bring back drawing?” - David Hockney, via Bloomberg

The art world has been a-flutter over the past several days with a (largely) manufactured battle between two of its stars: David Hockney and Damien Hirst. Hockney mania, the Telegraph reports, has overloaded the Royal Academy website, leaving servers crashing in its wake. Meanwhile, Hirsts "retrospective" of his infamous spot paintings (you know, the ones he didn't actually paint?) has barely registered, except as something for art critics to mock gleefully.

It could be that gallery goers have finally recognized that Hirst is a bit of a one-trick pony. Admittedly, it was a sort of interesting trick - at the beginning. I must admit to snickering over his "The Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living" (you know, the shark preserved in formaldehyde? I laughed even harder when it rotted and the hedge fund manager that bought it had to get Hirst to make him a new one!). The whole episode exuded the sort of impish tomfoolery that allowed the YBAs (Young British Artists) to steal the scene in the 90s. But its gotten a bit old.

On to Hockney then: the popularity of his latest exhibit is refreshing for several reasons. First, it suggests the public can only be entertained for so long by having a middle finger extended in their general direction. Second, it indicates that there is a real and abiding appetite for beautiful, relevant, art.

Hockney's exhibit, entitled ‘A Bigger Picture’ opens today and will run until April 9th, 2012 at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. It features a number of new artworks created using Hockney's iPad and iPhone (follow the link to see more, including a video). As far as I'm aware, Hockney is the best-known  artist to dedicate a significant portion of a new exhibit to works created using the iPad. Of course, artists have been using the iPad and iPhone to create beautiful work since the devices were first released, but the popularity of the Hockney story seems to indicate that there is deeper change afoot.

The bright colours of his new pieces are eye catching and invigorating, and they give the impression that they are somehow backlit. In Hockney's interview with Bloomberg, he dwells briefly on the fact that the iPad's lighting has influenced his work, saying “[t]he fact that it’s illuminated makes you choose luminous subjects, or at least I did: the sunrise, for example, and flower vases with water in them that catch reflections.” The article also touches on the fact that the using his phone or tablet has made his work much easier, simply because it is more accessible: “I realized when I was doing the sunrises last year that it was partly because the iPhone was beside my bed when I woke up...if I’d only had a pencil and paper there I probably wouldn’t have chosen to make pictures of the dawn.” Finally, because the iPad records the movements of his finger across the device, viewers can be brought one step closer to the creative process through videos of the works being made.

 Viewers who are able to experience these works in person at the Royal Academy of Arts in London will see them printed on paper. The paper medium still translates the luminous quality of the paintings, but paradoxically, if you only get a chance to see them on your computer, smartphone or tablet, you will have greater proximity to the artist's process. It's strangely like being able to hold an original Van Gogh in your hands. This was exploited to great effect when Hockney's Fresh Flowers exhibit was on display at the Royal Ontario Museum a few months back, where you could sign up to have an "original" piece of artwork he had created on the iPhone emailed to you every few weeks.

There has been a degree of sterility and self-reflexivity about contemporary art that has left the public feeling excluded from artistic discourse. Hockney's exhibit is an exciting opportunity for people to experience art in a fresh new way that resonates with audiences. And if you're interested, you can buy the Brushes app Hockney used to create his masterpieces from the App Store for $7.99 (at this juncture, I feel compelled to note that anyone who is convinced that the cost of the app --plus an iPad or iPhone--is too high, has never had to buy art supplies!).


Hermes said...

If the piece you show is typical, its repetitive and pretty poor really.

Val S. said...

I have to disagree with Hermes - I think the piece shown here is interesting and attractive for its subject matter, perspective, and color. I'm still trying to connect to the Royal Academy website so see more, but they seem to be having a problem right now. If Hermes thinks this is a poor example, maybe the others are stupendous!

I'm more of a traditionalist with art, but this post has piqued my interest in new developments using technology (and I enjoyed the jabs at Hirst). Hockney shows his range by adapting to a changing culture and using new techniques. Thanks for the information and insights - maybe I'll be more adaptable, too, and read up on Hockney!

Margaret said...

@Hermes - I hope you get a chance to see his other pieces. I only used one example from the press pack - there are a lot more to take a look at on the website. However, if you don't like this one, there's a chance you won't care for the others either. Personally, I agree with Val - I enjoyed the "subject matter, perspective and color" - obviously, art is not one size fits all :)

@Val S. - Thanks for stopping by! I agree with your comment - it is so refreshing to see an artist who is adapting painting to new technology while satisfying the basic human need for beauty...

Hermes said...

Thanks Margaret, I don't dislike Hockney at all but consider this lazy art.

Thorsprincess said...

Thank you for a well-written and enjoyable commentary on this contemporary artwork. Interesting and refreshing!

WoofWoof said...

I agree with Hermes. Personally (at the risk of being called a luddite) I feel there is no substitute for paint and brushes. The people in the gallery are looking at a print not at a genuine work. That's the wonder of "real" art - that picture you are looking at - Willaim Blake himself worked on it with his own hands 200 years ago. I think Hockney's comment that "all the works were produced by the artist" is brilliant though - people like Damien Hirst and Mark Wallinger - they aren't artists at all. In a previous era they would have been called patrons thinking up ideas and commissioning real artists to do the work.

The Nightwatchman said...

Personally, I have major issues with Hockney, which is around some one's son whom died.

Artistically, I think his early work is great and his craftsmanship has been good. But it feels that he is trying to be 'liked'. These current landscapes look like him going into a Matisse mode. I saw this one at the RAA summer exhibition.

Lazy is good description. Hirst can look after himself, especially, if his pieces are selling. Mind Candy is what Hirst and the YBAs' work is. As well as market manipulation by the dark lord of the art world, Charles Saatchi.

Still wondering how Tracey Emin became head of drawing for RA schools. I will see if I can get the gossip on that.

If I get the chance, I will probably go and will blog. On the other hand, I still haven't got round to doing Ford Madox Brown.

Margaret said...

@Woof Woof - I don't think Hockney is trying to substitute the iPad for paint and brushes - they're obviously very different mediums. I also can't help but feel that something doesn't quite ring true about printing the works. It seems like it is more interesting to look at the works on a digital device than to see them printed out on paper (I could be wrong, as I haven't been to the exhibit, so this is just speculation). I do love how democratic this particular art form is, though. The first time I saw Monet's work in the Musee D'Orsay, I realized I had never really seen or understood his work before. But how many people get that opportunity? If you come from small town America (or pretty much any other place on the globe except a few major cities), you are unlikely to get the chance to see spectacular "paint and brush" artworks in person.

@Nightwatchman - I hope you will get the chance to go to exhibit and let us know what your impressions are (if any one else has been fortunate enough to attend, please leave a comment!!). Did you see the "Lazy" Hirst mural from France? ( SO funny! Even Hirst must have got a laugh out of that.

Oh, and if Hockney is trying to be liked, he seems to be succeeding...And is there anything so wrong with that?

The Nightwatchman said...;postID=544812289646320109

My thoughts on the Hockney at the RAA. Very few nuggets, early stuff - 2 pictures, charcoal drawings and the Yosemite ipad sketches. The rest very poor.