Fine Art


The British painter David Hockney has an exhibition in Paris, an unusual exhibition: no paint, no canvas, no paper, no watercolor, either. Hockney made this art on iPhones and iPads.

NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg says it's a 21st century show.

SUSAN STAMBERG: David Hockney thinks this is the first exhibition that was totally emailed to a gallery, the Pierre Berge-Yves St. Laurent Foundation in Paris. There, the 73-year-old artist was happy to talk about the work, but his iPhone rang.

Mr. DAVID HOCKNEY (Artist): Hello. I'm right in the middle of an interview.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HOCKNEY: I'm sorry, believe me. I am, actually.

I'll turn it off. Wait a minute.

STAMBERG: And he did. Although just before he arrived, he could have been making an artwork on it - a little vase of flowers, or a face, or a landscape, all on his iPhone.

When Hockney first got the device about two years ago, he immediately realized it was a new medium for creativity.

Mr. HOCKNEY: Incredible little thing, really, because it was like a sketchbook with a paint box all in one, and no cleaning up. No mess.

STAMBERG: Because he is painting with an app called "Brushes," a small, virtual paint box on the phone screen into which he dips a finger or 10 and makes pictures.

Mr. ALI TAYAR (Installation Designer): He started out sending out these images, little images that he would make on his iPhone to his friends.

STAMBERG: Ali Tayar designed the installation of Hockney's bright and charming digital works in Paris. Ali loved getting these emails from the artist.

Mr. TAYAR: The most beautiful thing was when you wake up at 4:00 in the morning, just - you were trying to go back to sleep, but on your computer is one of his images. That is a treat. Say hi, a little flower.

STAMBERG: Hockney started making these vibrant phone and pad works early in the morning at his home in Yorkshire, England.

Mr. HOCKNEY: From about late April to July, the sunrise would hit me in bed. If I'd have had a pencil and paper by the bed, I wouldn't have drawn a sunrise.

STAMBERG: Black lead, white paper, not that much to get up for, really. But he had his iPhone by the bed and could draw the sunrise on the phone in color. Then the sun hit a vase of flowers near the bed. Hockney drew, painted, app-ed that, too, until he had made hundreds and hundreds of pictures.

Mr. HOCKNEY: Some were drawn quite quickly. Some were drawn over two or three mornings, meaning I'd go back to them. And I sent them out. Lovely thing was I could send them out to my friends, some odd-25 people. Often, they were getting the sunrise that they'd missed. And they all said they loved receiving them.

STAMBERG: Then he heard about the larger iPad. Hockney always carried a small sketchbook along with him. Now he carries it electronically and really gets into it.

Mr. HOCKNEY: On the iPhone, I tended to draw with my thumb, whereas the moment I got to the iPad, I found myself using every finger.

Mr. CHARLIE SCHEIPS (Curator, Berge-St. Laurent Foundation): He says he sometimes gets so obsessed, that when he's going in it, he rubs his finger on his clothes to, like, clean his finger, as if he was using real paint.

STAMBERG: Charlie Scheips curated the Paris show of non-paint paintings on the luminous digital screens. One wall at the gallery is hung with 20 iPhones. A second wall carries 20 iPads. The Berge-St. Laurent Foundation paid for all the devices - not Apple, they say.

All the gadgets are turned on 24 hours a day. And from time to time, Hockney emails a new work to one of them - a kind of artistic update. The show closes at the end of January. Then, installation designer Ali Tayar says all the art will disappear.

Mr. TAYAR: It's not the traditional painting. It's a luminous screen. It really doesn't exist. It's just light on a screen.

STAMBERG: You could print a Hockney email, if you were lucky enough to get one. But it would lose something in translation without that brilliant back-lighting. The work only lives on these gadgets.

How do I give you my email so that I can become your friend and you will send these to me?

David Hockney smiles thinly and changes the subject - sort of.

Mr. HOCKNEY: We haven't figured out how to get paid. At the moment, it doesn't matter, but I will have to figure it out, like everybody else.

STAMBERG: Meantime, he's having fun making art with this newfangled, but basically old-fashioned instrument.

Mr. HOCKNEY: Who would have thought the telephone would bring back drawing?

STAMBERG: He likes that, as do loads of other artists who are bringing back drawing this way, making works on digital devices.

Curator Charlie Scheips says David Hockney has always been forward-looking. Years ago, he made collages with Polaroid pictures and used home copying machines for other works. This new phase, Scheips thinks, is just the logical next step - but a big step, artistically.

Mr. SCHEIPS: These things are all about surfaces. It's all about mark-making. That's what the iPad and the iPhone - these drawings, they may be small physically, but they're big and important in terms of his total oeuvre. And he thinks that this medium is going to change the world.

STAMBERG: The show, at the Pierre Berge-Yves St. Laurent Foundation in Paris, is called "Fresh Flowers," a bouquet of digital drawings from a master.

I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

INSKEEP: You can see some of Hockney's iPhone and iPad images at You can even look them up on the NPR app on the iPhone or iPad.

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