Revisiting Hockney’s iPhone drawings

David Hockney in his London studio with his iPhone, which has its own mini easel. (via)

When I originally read about David Hockney’s new iPhone drawings, I didn’t give them much thought, especially after seeing the ridiculous picture (above) of the iPhone on a mini easel in the Mail Online. This week Lawrence Weschler contributes an interesting article about the drawings in the New York Review of Books that casts the project in a new, less gimmicky light. “Over the past six months, Hockney has fashioned literally hundreds, probably over a thousand, iPhone images, often sending out four or five a day to a group of about a dozen friends, and not really caring what happens to them after that. (He assumes the friends pass them along through the digital ether.) These are, mind you, not second-generation digital copies of images that exist in some other medium: their digital expression constitutes the sole (albeit multiple) original of the image….

“Increasingly, over the past several months, it is the summer dawn, rising over the seabay outside his bedroom window, that has been capturing Hockney’s attention. ‘I’ve always wanted to be able to paint the dawn,’ Hockney explains. ‘After all, what clearer, more luminous light are we ever afforded? Especially here where the light comes rising over the sea, just the opposite of my old California haunts. But in the old days one never could, because, of course, ordinarily it would be too dark to see the paints; or else, if you turned on a light so as to be able to see them, you’d lose the subtle gathering tones of the coming sun. But with an iPhone, I don’t even have to get out of bed, I just reach for the device, turn it on, start mixing and matching the colors, laying in the evolving scene. He has now accomplished dozens of such sequential studies, sending them out in real time, so that his friends in America wake to their own account of the Bridlington dawn�two, five, sometimes as many as eight successive versions, sent out minutes apart, one after the next.’

“I asked Hockney whether he’d mind my sharing some of these images with a wider audience across a printed medium, and he said, not really, he more or less assumed that the pictures would one by one find their way into the world. ‘Though it is worth noting,’ he adds, lighting one of his perennial cigarettes, ‘that the images always look better on the screen than on the page. After all, this is a medium of pure light, not ink or pigment, if anything more akin to a stained glass window than an illustration on paper.'” Read more.



  1. I assumed the story when Hockney's iPhone drawings made headlines was that an older artist knew how to use an iPhone. I don't understand the interest in this. Artists use the latest technology all the time.

  2. Hi Hrag,

    Yes, it's true, but Hockney's using the iPhone in interesting ways. 1.) to change how his work is distributed and viewed, and 2.) to create images that he couldn't have made any other way. Conceptually the distribution is intriguing. By sending his drawings via email, each one as high-quality as the original, Hockney has eliminated the singular object (although his earlier fax images also covered this territory). The tiny digital image, rather than a print of the image, is the piece. The fact that the iPhone enables painters to sketch in low light without resorting to photo reference takes the device (and the images created) beyond novelty. David Hockney's iPhone sketches, when studied closely,reveal his amazing skills as a draftsman and colorist.


  3. I guess I'm not as impressed because this is the type of thing that happens all the time in the world of netart. The concept of original is undermined and digital images are circulated online free (often without knowing where or with whom they originated).

    I'm also cynical because of me is waiting until he (or his galleries) transform these into signed prints at some point and they will be perceived as the "real" images. And judging by the images themselves, I don't see a departure from any other type of sketch. If he was creating animated gifs with the iPhone or something springing from the technology I think I'd be more impressed.

  4. Hrag,

    I broke down and bought the Brushes app for the iPhone yesterday. It's a really good tool for making color studies and sketches. In fact, it's so seductive, I'm having trouble putting it down.


  5. Can't wait to see the results!

  6. People who have made net art for years have every right to be bitter. They have been ignored by almost every facet of the art world for how long? But I for one really like Hockney's iPod stuff.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *