Hockney used different forms of technologies to explore and hone his craft. He was adept at using different technological innovations from a pencil to photocopiers. He even experimented with fax machines and a device known as the Quantel Paintbox. Although Hockney utilized different forms of technologies as his mediums of artistic expressions, it was his expert use of the polaroid camera and the novel ways of using the iPad that made him a global icon of his generation and an inspiration for a new generation of artists who were born into a digital age.
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One can argue that Hockney became a famous artist twice in his lifetime. First, when he transformed the concept of pop art when he moved from London to Los Angeles in the 1960s. He did it through his paintings and his camera work. Second, when he learned how to paint using an iPad. However, in order to have a deeper appreciation of his masterful works, it is best to go through an overview of life and works.
The artist was born in Bradford, England, in July of 1937, and he had a good start as a creative person when his parents encouraged his artistic pursuits. His love for reading gave him unfettered access to the life and works of great craftsmen and creative personalities, such as Picasso, Fragonard, and Matisse (Biography.com Editors). He took a serious turn to explore the world of art when he enrolled at the Bradford College of Art. After expressing his core values by becoming a conscientious objector to the wars fought under the British flag in the 1950s, he worked as a volunteer health worker in order to fulfill his duties to his nation (Biography.com Editors). After graduating from college, he enrolled at the Royal College of Art in London in order to pursue graduate studies.
His fruitful years at the Royal College of Art in London enabled him to hone his talent through the constant nurturing presence of highly qualified instructors. His worldview and his various techniques were also shaped by his interactions with future Hall of Famers like Peter Blake and Allen Jones (Biography.com Editors). It was also his stint at the said graduate school when he was first noticed as a world-class painter.
Hockney admitted that he fell in love with Los Angeles, California, through Hollywood films. He was attracted to LA’s sunny weather. He made his love affair official when he moved to LA in the year 1966. It is interesting to note that part of his fascination with Los Angeles had something to do with the city’s swimming pools. He started painting LA’s swimming pools in the 1960s.
First Major Technology: Conventional Painting Mediums
Technically speaking, even ancient painting mediums like oil on canvas or various painting tools and materials are considered as a form of technology that artists use to create their masterpieces. In the case of Hockney and the use of technology in order to hone his craft, the first example of a technological application in his artworks was the use of painting materials. In other words, Hockney started his professional work as an artist by making beautiful paintings.
It is also safe to assume that he started his life as an artist, not through oil paintings and other sophisticated painting techniques, but simply through pen and pencil. Even when he was old, he was still able to demonstrate his skill in the use of basic forms of writing or sketching technology like pen on paper. In the year 1999 when he was already in his senior years, the artist made a self-portrait, described as an artwork utilizing pencil on gray paper.
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However, it was his use of acrylic paint on canvas that made people realize that Hockney was a gifted artist. One of his remarkable artistic outputs is the painting of a Los Angeles pool that was described as acrylic on canvas artwork that he completed in 1967 (Hockney “A Bigger Splash”). Without a doubt, Hockney is a gifted painter. However, one can also argue that he became a global icon when he attempted to transcend the two-dimensional confines of conventional artworks using his polaroid cameras.
Second Major Technology: Camera
It was the ingenious utilization of camera and lenses, specifically Polaroid cameras, that made Hockney a world-renowned artist. In an online version of the Smithsonian magazine, the artist was quoted after describing the rationale for his unorthodox use of camera technology (Weschler). Hockney explained that it was the result of the desire to show something beyond the limitations of a single perspective. He went on to explain that when someone asked a child to draw a picture of his home the way the child perceived it, the child will proceed to draw a house and include everything, even those the items that are inside the house or objects located in the backyard (Weschler).
Hockney said that the child would continue in this manner until a teacher corrects the youngster because, according to the teacher’s standards and point of view, it is impossible to make that kind of drawing or rendering of reality based on a single point of view. Hockney said that there is nothing wrong with the child’s interpretation because, in a real-life setting, human beings are able to see the inside of their respective homes through their imagination. According to Hockney, people are not limited by a single-point perspective (Weschler). This principle can help explain Hockney’s photo collages.
Hockney challenged the one-point perspective when he created a collage of chromogenic prints. In this artwork, the British-born artist confronted the traditional idea that when painting an object that is located considerably far away from the point of view of the person viewing the object, the said object must be painted smaller relative to the other objects that are located closer to the person’s point of view.
However, in this collage, the artist presented an object that appeared larger while it is located relatively far away from the person’s point of view (Hockney “Paint Trolley”). It has to be made clear that his experimentation with cameras and collages goes beyond the presentation of a unique worldview or the attempt to create something different. His main purpose was to demonstrate how people tend to experience these landscapes and these objects when experienced in a real-life encounter.
It must be noted that all the subject matter captured on camera are objects and places that can be observed by an ordinary person. In other words, Hockney wanted his audience and his critics to see the objects or places that he was able to capture through his cameras are not inanimate things or locations, but actively transforming and interacting with its surroundings, especially the person that was in that particular point in time observing the said subject matter.
The principle that he wanted to convey, especially the idea that it is impossible to study objects, people, and places without perceiving the dynamic changes that occur through the passage of time, was made evident in many of his notable works. One of his first major attempts was to show how a person takes in the view from multiple angles. This was demonstrated in a Polaroid composite that documented a man diving into a swimming pool (Hockney “Jerry Diving”).
He did not waver in his commitment to this type of artwork. A few years later, one can see evidences to support the assertion that he became famous outside the United States and the UK because of his dedication to his craft. French Vogue invited him to write an essay, partly as a recognition of his immense talent, and partly as a recognition for his complex photo collage on a French landmark (J. Paul Getty Trust). He photographed the location and assembled the collage in a three-day span (Hockney “Place Furstenberg”). It is one of Hockney’s more extraordinary works as the trees and buildings seemed to come alive as the one viewing the collage interacted with the composite images.
He was at the height of his power when he came back from France, and one year after he submitted his work about the said French landmark, one can say that he created a masterpiece when he made a collage that required 800 photographs (Hockney “Pearblossom Highway”). The artist spent several days taking photos of California’s Antelope Valley. At the end of the creative process, one can see how the artist attempted to engage the viewers, making them experience the same location from multiple viewpoints. For example, the mind registers the shot as an image of a specific location.
In a book entitled Basics Photography 01, the author pointed out that Hockney was not merely taking photos of an object or a location, because he was also in the process of recording the elapsed time per shot (Prakel 60). However, as the eyes examine the details, it is hard to miss the changing shadows indicating that the same spot was photographed for several hours in order to communicate the passage of time.
Third Technology: iPad as an Innovative Painting Medium
It is rare to see an artist able to capture the imagination two generations, separated by time, cultural values, and technological innovations. However, Hockney was able to bridge the gap when he embraced the technology of the present generation. Multiple news bureaus and social media platforms celebrated Hockney’s decision to use the iPad as one of his major painting mediums. It is not easy getting used to the idea that an electronic gadget can be considered as a painting medium, but in reality, it is a tool that enables an artist to create beautiful paintings.
It is interesting to note that Hockney did not embrace the iPad-based technology in order to show the world that he wanted to stay relevant. In numerous interviews that were conducted to learn more about Hockney’s new love affair with digital technology, it was made clear that he liked the iPad because this electronic gizmo allows him to pursue his passion without the problems associated with traditional painting mediums (Abrams).
Hockney said that in this new medium, there is no need to worry about cleaning the workplace at the end of the day (Niland). He also added that the iPad gave him unlimited creative powers, especially in the absence of limitations imposed by paper or canvas (Bowden and Goswell). Hockney also revealed that he favored the portability of the iPad that allowed him to paint landscapes in the most cost-efficient manner (Perkins). These interviews and the displays of his work made him a global icon the second time around.
Analysis of Hockney’s Use of Technology
A more in-depth analysis of the artist’s relationship with technology revealed that he experimented with different forms of technological innovations in order to incorporate new tools and new artistic mediums into his creative process. It is interesting to note that he was adept at using several tools and gizmos, from pencil to photocopiers (Niland). In fact, even before he was celebrated as a master painter using the iPad as a novel painting medium, Hockney was already a popular figure in the art world because of his audacity to use different technologies, such as fax machines and the Quantel Paintbox (Niland).
Although he experimented with different forms of technologies, there are three major types that defined his character and made him a famous artist all over the planet, and these are traditional painting mediums and conventional painting materials; polaroid cameras; and iPad.
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The three aforementioned forms of technology defined Hockney in three ways. First, the use of traditional painting mediums established him as a serious artist. His paintings using acrylic paint on canvas and his drawings using pencil on paper gave him the platform to be accepted as a talented artist and a chance to explore art later on. However, it was his use of polaroid cameras that transformed him into a global icon.
His creative output, as manifested through his fascinating photo collages, allowed Hockney to introduce a new way of developing works of art that does not limit people to see objects and landscapes through a one-point perspective. Before the advent of virtual reality technology and computer screens, this type of work provides a glimpse of how future artists and art aficionados can interact with works of art. Hockney’s relevance in the present-day art scene is not because he knows how to use the iPad. It is due to his fearlessness in trying new things and his audacious commitment to using tools that are going to expand his horizons and enhance his capabilities.
Although the philosophical reasoning for his adoption of digital technology is impressive, there is a more practical reason for his re-surging popularity. The new generation of artists and the new generation of art aficionados are thrilled by the idea of an 80-year old painter unafraid to use the iPad to explore possibilities of how he can still improve his craft.
Although Hockney experimented with different forms of technologies to hone his craft, he was defined by three major types: the use of conventional painting and drawing mediums, polaroid cameras, and the iPad. The first one gave him the chance to learn and explore. The polaroid cameras enabled him to develop a new way of creating artistic outputs. Finally, the third one demonstrated his commitment to continually improve his skills. At the same time, the use of the iPad made him more accessible to the younger generation of artists and art aficionados who are thrilled by the idea of an 80-year old man relentlessly pursuing the desires of his heart.
Biography.com Editors. “David Hockney.” Biography. Web.
Bowden, Tracy and Gus Goswell. “British Artist David Hockney, 79, Speaks on Art and Embracing New Technology.” ABC News. 2016. Web.
Hockney, David A Bigger Splash. 1967. acrylic on canvas. Los Angeles, California.
—. Jerry Diving Sunday Feb. 28th 1982. 1982, polaroid composites. Los Angeles, California.
—. Paint Trolley, L.A. 1985, collage of chromogenic prints. Los Angeles, California.
—. Pearblossom Highway. 1986, collage of chromogenic prints. Antelope Valley, California.
—. Place Furstenberg. 1985, collage of chromogenic prints. Paris, France.
—. Sun on the Pool Los Angeles. 1982, polaroid composites. Los Angeles, California.
The J. Paul Getty Trust. “Happy Birthday, Mr. Hockney.” Getty Museum. Web.
Niland, Lauren. “David Hockney: The Art of Technology.” The Guardian. 2012. Web.
Prakel, David. Basics Photography 01: Composition. Ingram Publisher, 2012.
Perkins, Cory. “How David Hockney Became the World’s Foremost iPad Painter.” Wired. 2013. Web.
Weschler, Lawrence. “Why David Hockney Has a Love-Hate Relationship with Technology.” Smithsonian. 2013. Web.