June 21, 2024


When you’re young, you first learn to paint with your fingers. Finger painting is one of the simplest and most elementary forms of art; the purity of the method gives way to messy hands and cheerful colour palettes.

However, there has been an evolution in finger painting – or more like a revolution.

David Hockney’s version of this humble technique does not require any set up or clean up. There are no canvases and no messes. There is only his iPad.

The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto welcomed renowned UK artist David Hockney’s Fresh Flowers: Drawings on iPhones and iPads exhibition on Oct. 8. This North American debut marked Hockney’s first Canadian show in two decades.

Hockney innovated the tradition of fine art, bringing it to life on the iPad and iPhone; he draws flowers, portraits and landscapes using the same devices that over three million people across the world use to just make phones calls or read books.

“I have always been an advocate of drawing. The teaching of drawing … I joked about it – who would have thought the telephone could bring back drawing?”

Employing the brushes application on his iPad and iPhone to create the drawings, Hockney has coined a new manifestation of artistic expression.

“One quickly realizes that it is a luminous medium and very good for luminous subjects. I began to draw the sunrise seen from my bed on the east coast of England … it was the luminosity of the screen that connected me to it.”

However, the novelty of the collection does not remain static with just the colourful subject matter or the use of new technology to create it; the uniqueness is twofold. Not only has Hockney revolutionized and staked his artistic flag into a new medium, but he has simultaneously transformed the manner in which his work is distributed.

“I was aware immediately when I started drawing on the iPhone that it was a new medium – and not only a new medium but also a very new way to distribute pictures,” said Hockney.

Each drawing Hockney creates has its own email address, so he is able to send it to the gallery as the exhibition is occurring. This keeps his work current and fresh, holding true to the show’s title. Whether Hockney is in Paris or San Francisco, all he requires is an Internet connection, and he is able to email new pieces to the exhibition at the ROM, making each day’s exhibit dynamic and unique.

“The first day you view the collection will be different than the last,” said Janet Carding, director and CEO of the ROM.

The exhibit is much more than just drawings plastered on a wall, it is a journey with the artist through the inspiration, the creation and the delivery of the artwork.

Fresh Flowers displays over 200 drawings on 20 iPod touches and 25 iPads. Along with eight large-scale animated projections, there are two films featuring Hockney working on an iPad. The video content is especially innovative, giving the viewer insight into his creative method and processes.

The first film that plays upon entering the exhibit paints a picture, literally, of how Hockney created a drawing of the Eiffel Tower.  The camera pans from the iPad up over the Juliet balcony, passes over the black wrought-iron railing, and then up to the iconic Paris landmark itself. It quickly goes back to a table inside the room where Hockney grabs a pack of cigarettes, removes one, lights it and takes one long drag before returning to his high-tech Etch A Sketch.

While Hockney is nearly 75, Fresh Flowers speaks to young adults across the globe. He illustrates so effortlessly how the technology that raised this generation and influenced it so greatly has now come full circle; the devices people use every day to make phone calls and check emails can now speak via artistic means, creating new meaning of artistic culture in today’s ever-changing society.

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