A cynic would perhaps look at the recent work of the 80-year-old English artist David Hockney and see a lazy money grab. His series of digital paintings made on his iPad and his iPhone each come in editions of 25 and sell for tens of thousands of dollars each. You can imagine him leaned back on his couch, drawing with his finger, practically willing money into his bank account.
But money hasn’t been an issue for Hockney as of late. (His market is at an all-time high with his landscape painting “Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica,” 1990, going for $28.45 million at Sotheby’s in New York in mid-May, setting a record for the artist.) More importantly, as he’s gotten older and less physically mobile, his iPad and iPhone have allowed him to continue creating the outdoor scenes of complex light for which he’s so well known. Since the winter of 2008, he’s been almost exclusively focused on creating art with his handheld Apple devices, and “Pictures of Daily Life,” at the Galerie Lelong & Co. in Paris, on until July 13, shows off 23 of these works.
“Pictures of Daily Life” comes on the heels of the artist’s major retrospective that toured London’s Tate, New York’s Metropolitan, and Paris’ Pompidou Center late last year. The current show is exclusively composed of quiet, British scenes — bathrooms, outlets, candles, sleeping dogs, and many, many flowers, all created on his iPad. Some of the works are a little too on the nose and their political bent feels forced, like in the pre-Brexit “Will It Ever Work,” 2010, in which differing electrical outlets from the United Kingdom and European Union countries background a book that’s titled “WILL EUROPE EVER FIT TOGETHER.” But, more often, as in his many self-portraits and floral compositions, the technology adds a new layer of interest, allowing the artist to focus and blur certain parts of his digital paintings. It also frees him to create numerous layers that give the effect of him having rethought parts of the work and drawn over them, and, in both the blurring and the layering, a sense of depth is achieved, allowing details like the pattern in a bathrobe or a hyper-focused wisp of hair to come startlingly to the fore.
Of course, he is David Hockney, and one imagines that only a handful of other artists around the world would be given multiple gallery exhibitions and media attention for works made on his or her iPad. But what Hockney has done with the technology is no small matter, and, in some ways, it’s opened up entirely new avenues for art. His routine is simple: he uses an app called Brushes, a precise stylus, and he prints the works himself with a digital inkjet that takes about 20 minutes for each page.
“He thinks it’s a new medium and that it’s here to stay,” Richard Benefield, the deputy director of the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco and an expert on Hockney, told The New York Times. “He’s really exploited it, I think, as far as you can take it in terms of using the iPad to do what artists used to do with pastels or watercolors or oil paints when they’re working outside in the landscape.”
He started first with his iPhone in 2008 when his partner, John Fitzherbert, would bring home a fresh bouquet of flowers each day. Hockney sketched them on his phone, placing the vases of flowers in different positions around the house, letting the sunlight strike them in different ways.
“The fact that the screen is illuminated makes you choose luminous subjects, or at least I did,” Hockney also told The Telegraph. “Dawn is about luminosity and so is the iPhone. People send me iPhone drawings which look okay, but you realize that they are not picking particularly luminous subjects — which this medium is rather good at.”
But while the iPad and iPhone have allowed for a new chapter in Hockney’s career, the use of the technology also brings to the fore questions about how the market will react given that the “original” images he keeps are identical to the editions he allows galleries like Lelong & Co. to sell.
The idea of the “original,” signed work seems to thus be undermined, and one wonders how the market will react. For now, however, his strong market seems undisturbed. The works are selling for an average of about $25,000 each, which, with 25 editions per work, means that each digital painting nets about $625,000. No small feat for an iPad sketch.
"David Hockney: Pictures of Daily Life" is on view at Galerie Lelong in Paris through July 13. More information: