Legendary English painter David Hockney’s latest paintings created during the pandemic have arrived at Istanbul’s Sakip Sabanci Museum, bringing along the fresh air of spring.
Art world titan David Hockney’s latest ‘paintings’ are not actually paintings. They are prints of paintings created on a custom-made iPad app that a programmer developed for the artist, now 84.
A total of 116 artworks, printed on frames much, much larger than an iPad screen and filled with surprisingly rich detail, now hang at Istanbul’s Sakip Sabanci Museum at Emirgan.
This is the first time Hockney’s paintings have been exhibited in Türkiye and that has made one person particularly excited – the museum’s director, Nazan Olcer. She says that bringing the exhibition to Istanbul that previously hung at London’s Royal Academy of Arts and Brussels’ Bozar Centre for Fine Arts was a collaborative effort. The paintings will be exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago after Istanbul.
The paintings were all done during the pandemic lockdown days, and Hockney completed at least one painting a day, working anywhere from eight to ten hours a day in the garden of his house in Normandy, north of France.
“Some critics in London, who were intimately knowledgeable about Hockney’s traditional work, criticised the iPad paintings, while many others saw it as a magnificent innovation,” Olcer tells TRT World.
“People seem to have forgotten that when photography was first invented, similar ‘issues’ arose. The invention of photography offered 19th century artists an incredible opportunity to quickly make a portrait of a sitter whereas a formal painted portrait would have required hours. What if your subject is someone like the king or the queen? Someone who does not have the time to hold a pose for hours?” she asks rhetorically.
Olcer says critics quickly eased up their negative press on the painter as she continued following up on the feedback to his iPad drawings.
She says that for a Turkish audience, Hockney is not a household name: “Only people who have been overseas and explored his exhibitions there know of him. But I wanted David Hockney, who is an important and multi-talented artist, to be better known in Türkiye and wanted the joy and passion of spring to come to Türkiye, with an exhibition that gives off such a positive vibe.”
Curator Edith Devaney tells TRT World that the artist’s relationship with the iPad started in 2010 when the device first came out. Hockney had already been experimenting with drawing on the iPhone.
“He was working on a big show I was curating at that point about landscape, and he took time out to perfect his technique on the new iPad. And one of the works in that exhibition in 2012 he did on the iPad. He called them iPad drawings. It’s been a medium for him ever since then,” Devaney says.
“Like everything, he picks it up then he uses something else: so he goes back to drawing, goes back to working with inks, he goes back to painting.”
Devaney says Hockney had an app specially developed for him for the iPad paintings he did in Normandy where he had gone to capture spring in 2020, and his time there coincided with the global lockdown.
“When he came to think about how he wanted to depict spring in Normandy, which he’d already determined he was going to do, it was the iPad that he turned to because he thought he’d be able to do it quickly.”
Devaney explains further: “He’d be able to do it without having to set up –– so he’s not getting the canvas out, his paints mixed in, all of those things, waiting for the paint to dry… He was able to use the same amount of man hours working on the iPad as he would on the surface of the canvas but there’s nothing extraneous on either end that he needed to do.”
She also points out that the iPad is portable which allowed Hockney to move around in the garden, find a different scene, sometimes work sitting on a chair looking at the scene, sometimes work inside a Jeep that he’d drive around. “So it gave him that flexibility.”
Asked about the artist’s relationship with technology, she is quick to emphasise that Hockney is not interested in technology for the sake of it, but rather, “he’s interested in technology for what it means in image making.”
Hockney had used technology, such as faxes and Polaroids, before in his art: “He saw the faxes as an ability to make an image and send it to someone. And of course that’s pre-iPhones. The same as with the Polaroid, he saw that as an instant image. And he exploited that in some works as well.”
Devaney believes that “people make the mistake to think he’s a technology buff of some sort. He comes at it from a different perspective. He comes at it from an artist’s perspective.”
The iPad paintings are unique, according to Devaney, because Hockney used the technology as a “convenient option, not necessarily an easy option for the complexities of the paintings.”
Hockney worked on a screen that was a fraction of the size of the final prints. “And he knew when he was working on them what size he wanted to make the final prints. All of those thought processes you need to go through about how big the mark making should be, what the composition should be so that it worked in that bigger size, were all things he was engaged with throughout so that was an added level of concentration.”
The life-affirming, intricate and joyous spring paintings of David Hockney will be on view at the Sakip Sabanci Museum in Emirgan, Istanbul, until July 29, 2022, and can be visited every day except Mondays.