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Published on December 13th, 2016 | by Piotr Policht

David Hockney – Old Master Painting on an iPhone

It’s often hard to grasp what some great artists do when they turn into elderly living legends. Their works from half a century ago being constantly moved from one exhibition to another, all around the world. All of them sold out to museums and private collections, while new pieces are getting dusty in a corner of the studio. They are likely to be considered flimsy repetitions of their best achievements or not really successful ventures towards the new.

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David Hockney, “Self-portrait, 20 March 2012 (1219)”, 2012, Collection of the artist © David Hockney

But this is not the case of David Hockney. Famous British artist, widely known from the swinging 60s, among other for his iconic painting A Bigger Splash, is still active and keeping up to date. People from National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, obviously think the same. Hockney’s exhibition is currently at view there. David Hockney: Current includes only the works made during the last decade.

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David Hockney, “Untitled, 655” 2011, Collection of the artist © David Hockney

Hockney doesn’t struggle to innovate and redefine the medium, he just keeps doing his thing using new tools. He always willingly adopted new technologies. Smartphones and tablets being no different. he started working on an iPhone in 2009, soon after that he also started using iPad. Hockney a is a child of a screen in a way. Since the beginning he let photographic and cimematic pictures slip into his visual world. No wonder he uses touchscreens now. His strength is an ability to use them in meaningful way. They could also become subjects of the works. Still life with digital devices? Why not. Picture above is quite interesting. The electrical outlet reflected in a smartphone looks like classical theater mask, also a bit like the face from Munch’s Scream. It seems to be a quick sketch, but in the same time shows that for Hockney, electronic devices he uses are not just a fancy high-tech toys. They are meaningful both as a medium and as a topic. It’s just a picture of a charging phone lying on a book, but conceived by an experienced artist who can look at ordinary things a bit like old masters from the Netherlands did, being able to encapsulate existential undertones into them.

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Barry Humphries, “26th, 27th, 28th March” 2015, Collection of the artist © David Hockney. Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt

In Hockney’s big series of portraits it is again tiny details that change everything. Hockney’ sitters – mainly family and friends, but in his case that includes some famous artists – rest in the same chair, with the same background. They are painted on the same-sized canvases. All the similarities allow us to see differences between the individuals. All of the portraits are made entirely during three day long sittings.

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David Hockney, “A bigger card players”, 2015, Collection of the artist © David Hockney. Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt

Series of card players is Hockney’s tribute to Cezanne. At first, Hockney painted the scene. Which was, well, quite obvious for a painter referring to another painter. In the end, he decided to photograph it instead. Although they are made in another medium, it is not just the iconography that connects them to original Cézanne’s pieces. Cézanne is known for his deliberate distortions of the rules of perspective. It was one of the reasons he became a kind of Cubists’ informal patron. Just like Cézanne did in his paintings, Hockney does in his photos. He shatters the scene into pieces. He literarily photographed one element after another, separately: background, floor, table, single sitters, all the little things lying on the table or hanging on the wall. Everything sharp, detailed, carefully placed within the composition.

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David Hockney, “Bigger trees near Warter or/ou Peinture sur le motif pour le nouvel age post-photographique”, 2007, oil on 50 canvases, 459.0 x 1225.0 cm (overall) © David Hockney Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt

Hockney’s British, he even dresses like sophisticated English gentleman, but he spent a huge part of his life in Los Angeles. He’s basically the man that shaped popular view of LA’s vein. In 2005 however, he moved to his country of origin for a couple of years, settling at Yorkshire, near the place he was born. After some dramatic events in his life, he returned to LA nearly a decade later. But before he did, he painted some landscapes, including this absolutely massive, piece, composed of 50 canvases.

And here’s the artist himself talking about the exhibition:


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