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MailTribune.com
  • Fine art meets high tech

    Famed painter David Hockney's exhibit was created through an iPad
  • Happily hunched over his iPad, David Hockney — Britain's most celebrated living artist — is pioneering in the art world again, turning his index finger into a paintbrush that he uses to swipe across a touch screen to create vibrant landscapes, colorful forests and richly layered scenes.
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  • Happily hunched over his iPad, David Hockney — Britain's most celebrated living artist — is pioneering in the art world again, turning his index finger into a paintbrush that he uses to swipe across a touch screen to create vibrant landscapes, colorful forests and richly layered scenes.
    "It's a very new medium," said Hockney. So new, in fact, he wasn't sure what he was creating until he began printing his digital images a few years ago.
    "I was pretty amazed by them actually," he said, laughing. "I'm still amazed."
    A new exhibit of Hockney's work, including about 150 iPad images, opened Saturday in the de Young Museum in San Francisco, just a short trip for Silicon Valley techies who created both the hardware and software for this 21st-century reinvention of finger-painting.
    Other iPad images are overlaid, so viewers can see them as they were drawn, an animated beginning-to-end chronological loop. He tackles faces and flowers, and everyday objects: a human foot, scissors, an electric plug.
    Some of the iPad drawings are displayed on digital screens, others, like the Yosemite works, were printed on six large panels. Hockey's technical assistants used large inkjet prints reproduce the images he created on his IPad.
    Exhibiting iPad images by a prominent artist in a significant museum gives the medium a boost, said art historians, helping digital artwork gain legitimacy in the notoriously snobby art world where computer tablet art shows are rare and prices typically lower than comparable watercolors or oils.
    "I'm grateful he's doing this because it opens people's mind to the technology in a new way," said Long Island University Art Historian Maureen Nappi, although she described Hockney's iPad work as "gimmicky."
    Writing about the historic shift of drawing from prehistoric cave painting to digital tablets in this month's MIT journal "Leonardo," Nappi said that while iPad work is still novel, the physicality of painting and drawing have gone on for millennia.
    "These gestures are as old as humans are," she said in an interview. "Go back to cave paintings; they're using finger movements to articulate creative expressions."
    Hockney, 76, started drawing on his iPhone with his thumb about five years ago, shooting his works via email to dozens of friends at a time.
    "People from the village come up and tease me: 'We hear you've started drawing on your telephone.' And I tell them, 'Well, no, actually, it's just that occasionally I speak on my sketch pad,'" he said.
    When the iPad was announced, Hockney said he had one shipped immediately to his home in London, where he splits his time with Los Angeles.
    He creates his work with an app built by former Apple software engineer Steve Sprang of Mountain View, Calif., called Brushes, which along with dozens of other programs like Touch Sketch, SketchBook Mobile and Bamboo Paper are being snapped up by artists, illustrators and graphic designers.
    Together, the artists are developing new finger and stylus techniques, with Hockney's vanguard work offering innovative approaches.
    "David Hockney is one of the living masters of oil painting, a nearly-600-year-old technology, and thus is well positioned to have thought long and hard about the advantages of painting with a digital device like the iPad," said Binghamton University Art Historian Kevin Hatch in New York.
    Hatch said there are some drawbacks to the shift to tablet art.
    "A certain almost magical quality of oil paint, a tactile, tangible substance, is lost when a painting becomes, at heart, a piece of code, a set of invisible 1's and 0's," he said.
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