Thursday, 29 October 2009


I think David Hockney's a wonder. I love the colour and immediacy of his work but I admire beyond bounds his incessant creativity. Making art seems to him to be both a compulsion and a never-ending delight.

His latest project - which is perhaps too dull a word: it feels as much a jeu d'esprit - is to paint on an iPhone (left, self portrait). Here's a talk from the New York Review of Books accompanied by a slide show of his iPhone works (you can link to an article from there too). It's interesting and some of the images are terrific.

I think the most successful of these paintings work off the luminosity inherent in a screen. All pictures are made by light, but these reverse the usual relationship: light comes from the painting rather than falling on it, rather like in a stained glass window (I wonder whether some of the techniques and approaches from this age-old medium could be applied to iPainting?) Hockney's certainly choosing subjects that capitalise on this feature: his paintings of the dawn possess an artful and satisfying match of subject and medium (see below). Quite extraordinary.

Quite new as well. These iPhone works are qualitatively different from screen-based reproductions of paintings, which have limited aesthetic equivalence with the original - they're really more like tables of contents. These paintings, on the other hand, were created to be digital, with the qualities inherent in the medium very much in mind. Of course, they're also reproducible, to an almost infinite degree and at zero marginal cost (Benjamin's Age of Mechanical Reproduction has arrived for paintings as paintings but, at least for me, with no diminution of aura).

Sounds very democratic and accessible doesn't it? However, it was interesting to hear on the talk that the images sent from Hockney's iPhone as he completed them are already taking on the status of originals. They have the highest resolutions, you see, and as they're distributed further the resolution will deteriorate. A chance for dealers to extract value from some form of residual scarcity?

Whatever, you can still imagine a market developing in digital works for digital consumption. Might we soon see artists licensing images designed to be screen-savers or desktop backgrounds? No self-respecting hedge fund manager will dream of having an iPhone or laptop without an expensive limited edition piece of digital art from a big name artist sitting on its screen...

Anyway, back to Hockney. I think we take him rather for granted. This is probably as he's so prolific, so familiar and so matter-of-fact (he doesn't talk bollocks). Far more than other, nominally more cutting-edge artists he's working at the technological limits of how new art can be made - actually made, and not conceptualised in a way that requires explication in a dull langue du bois. It's an amusing paradox that it's representational art that's being created by this new technology.

What's more, it wouldn't surprise me if the delightful, affirmatory images he throws off, seemingly in such casual fashion, end up being better regarded than the often drab slabs of paint that are so painfully dragged out of his near contemporary Lucien Freud.

H/t Clive Davis


martpol said...

Hockney is wonderful indeed.

But one thing:
the images sent from Hockney's iPhone as he completed them are already taking on the status of originals. They will have the highest resolutions, you see, and as they're distributed further the resolution will deteriorate

I always thought that digital images couldn't deteriorate, unless you're reproducing them on a piece of equipment that is lower quality itself. Assuming that most (or at least a lot of) iPhones are of the same quality, won't there be a lot of people who continue to get the 'original' quality? And doesn't this make the word 'original' as redundant in this context as one might instinctively assume, and give the lie to someone's attempt to make money from the whole thing?

worm said...

I like Hockney too, and I think its because you can see the talent in his craftsmanship.

I'm not sure whether I'd think he's so great in another era, but as he is surrounded by other conceptual artists who show you none of their actual 'artistic' ability, he shines out. The same with Freud too

Gaw said...

Martpol: I was relying on what was said in the talk and also some recollection of hearing that digital images deteriorate the more they are emailed. I'm no techie so have no independent view on this!

Worm: He just makes it seem so easy. I think artists should get marks for quantity as well as quality as long as it's all broadly good stuff. I can't get on with Freud - sludgy, samey and actually not very well drawn. His Queen was hilarious.