Hockney’s Digital Stroke

David Hockney, Untitled 26 December 2010, iPad Drawing. Courtesy of Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.

David Hockney included himself among the iPad’s expectant lovers. Since 2008 he’s used the application Brushes to draw on his iPhone—but what he can do with the app on the oversized model, oh. He can draw with multiple fingers and recently a stylus.

His show Me Draw on iPad is exhibiting until August 28th at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, outside of Copenhagen, Denmark. 20 iPod touches, 20 iPads and a triptych slide loop through several hundred still lifes, landscapes, portraits and self-portraits looking, I think, especially Matisse. On display the bright screens color in the dark galleries like panes of stained glass, what else. They light like the screens we hood our hands over in movie theaters. And, how weird—to come to a museum to stare into a face probably like the one stifled on your person.

Courtesy of Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Photo credit: Brøndum / Poul Buchard.

One iPad drawing reads,

made for

the screen

totally on

the screen

it’s not an


I am able to watch these works come into being thanks to an animation playback feature—the ghost in the machine going through the motions again, his intense lines. Someone at my shoulder remarks, “Det godt.” It’s good.

There is no saying what the implications of this new form are for making. The form is easy-to-access and convenient-to-create. Apps aren’t messy, no. Witness this playback of Hockey’s flora, watch how it blooms to life something like child’s play. Then consider the immediacy of the process. How there is no consequence because you can choose not to “Save” and take it out of the world lickety-split.

The thing no one’s saying about this show is that it’s all more or less politeness. When art is an omnipresent file on a portable showcase, do we need to get hung up on museum walls? Obviously this is not “street”; it’s something else. Hockney likes to send his flowers and sunsets to the inboxes of friends. In fact, he has, over the course of this Louisiana show, continuously emailed new drawings to the exhibition. Unless you count yourself as an intimate of Hockney’s the museum seems like your window in. But theoretically, that won’t prove true. Maybe Hockney’s “iPad period” is not a phase.

David Hockney, Untitled 13 June 2009, iPhone drawing. / Untitled 16 June 2010, iPad drawing.

Hockney has always had a big pocket put into his tailor-made suits, ad hoc for sketchbooks—but now that pocket is reserved for his iPad. As technology advances, I wonder if maybe what is next is subscription services. Art with a capital “a,” delivered like RSS feeds or Netflix—like milk in the old days—right to you. Pay-per-view? (Holograms?) I do not know that we can only interrogate in hallowed white spaces. It was said that no one would shop online. That the Video Home System would flop because we want to be swallowed by the cavernous theater. It wasn’t the same. And no, it isn’t the same. And yet. We can get the soul of a book without the spine. And I’m looking at a Hockney drawn on an iPad.