Throughout his career, Hockney has managed to constantly reinvent himself while retaining his artistic DNA. Famous for his crisp, languid depictions of poolside California, he has forayed into photomontage, fax art, art history, and, in the 80s, digital drawing on the computer program Quantel Paintbox. This latest, ever-evolving exhibition reflects his protean character. Twenty of the images on display are animated from start to finish, and on the foundation’s website you can watch the deft finger-strokes accumulate into a fully-realized product, a dynamic still-life.
Like most of us, these paintings were conceived in bed. Two years ago, watching the dawn tread across the North Sea and toward his Bridlington home, Hockney realized he could quickly catch the moment on his iPod (he has since then upgraded to the iPad). As he tells Lawrence Weschler in The New York Review of Books, “in the old days, one never could [capture the light], because, of course, ordinarily it would be too dark to see the paints; or else, if you turned on a light so as to see them, you’d lose the subtle gathering tones of the coming sun.”
Brushes frees the artist from the constraints of time and supplies. The iPad’s backlight lets you paint at any time of day, the app’s color wheel provides every pigment, and its very nature renders set-up and clean-up obsolete. How this device would have simplified life for Monet, who was so attuned to changes in sunlight that seven minutes was the limit for one of his Poplar series, and so attuned to the elements that he traveled with separate canvases for all types of wind and weather. For weeks he awoke at 3:30 a.m. and trundled off to the Seine, a canvas under each arm, to catch the transient, raking dawn. With an iPad he could have loafed until six before ambling to the river with a device no larger than his sketchpad.