David Hockney photographed in 1988, soon after his first experiments with a friend’s copy machine in February 1986. Photo REXShutterstock

‘The closest I’ve ever come in printing to what it’s like to paint’

How David Hockney’s love of technology, passion for innovation and experiments with a photocopier resulted in his ‘Home Made Prints’ series — illustrated with works offered in Contemporary Edition  online sale, 9-17 July

David Hockney began his printmaking career in 1954 as a student at the Bradford College of Art before expanding his technique during his studies at the Royal Academy. His interest in new technology, and how it might lead to new processes of printmaking, developed in the 1980s and has gone on to make a lasting impact on his art and how he sees the world.

‘Anyone who likes drawing or mark-making would like to explore new media,’ says Hockney. ‘I’m not a mad technical person, but anything visual appeals to me. In linocuts, for example, everything has to be bold. You don’t make tiny, thin lines in a linocut, it would be too niggly. But get an etching plate, it’s all about fine lines. Anybody who draws will enjoy that sort of variety of graphic medium: because it requires inventiveness.’

David Hockney (b. 1937), The Drooping Plant, 1986. Sheet 11 x 8½ in (279 x 216 mm). Estimate $3,000-5,000. Offered in Contemporary Edition, 9-17 July 2018, Online

David Hockney (b. 1937), The Drooping Plant, 1986. Sheet: 11 x 8½ in (279 x 216 mm). Estimate: $3,000-5,000. Offered in Contemporary Edition, 9-17 July 2018, Online

In February of 1986, Hockney began experimenting with a friend’s copy machine and within an hour he’d discovered it was, in fact, a new type of printing machine. The ‘home-made prints’ he produced using the machine disrupted the traditional processes of colour printmaking, traditionally a painstaking process that involves many layers and experts to match each new section of the print.

David Hockney (b. 1937), Apples, Pears & Grapes, 1986. Sheet 8⅜ x 13⅞ in (213 x 352 mm). Estimate $3,000-5,000. Offered in Contemporary Edition, 9-17 July 2018, Online

David Hockney (b. 1937), Apples, Pears & Grapes, 1986. Sheet: 8⅜ x 13⅞ in (213 x 352 mm). Estimate: $3,000-5,000. Offered in Contemporary Edition, 9-17 July 2018, Online

‘Over the years I’ve made a lot of prints working with several different master printshops,’ the artist explained. ‘It’s an exciting process, but I’ve always been bothered by the lack of spontaneity: how it takes hours and hours, working alongside several master craftsmen, to generate an image. How you’re continually having to interrupt the process of creation from one moment to the next for technical reasons.

David Hockney (b. 1937), Grey Blooms, 1986. Sheet 13⅞ x 16⅞ in (352 x 429 mm). Estimate $3,000-5,000. Offered in Contemporary Edition, 9-17 July 2018, Online

David Hockney (b. 1937), Grey Blooms, 1986. Sheet: 13⅞ x 16⅞ in (352 x 429 mm). Estimate: $3,000-5,000. Offered in Contemporary Edition, 9-17 July 2018, Online

‘But with these copying machines, I can work by myself — indeed you virtually have to work by yourself; there’s nothing for anyone else to do — and I can work with great speed and responsiveness. In fact, this is the closest I’ve ever come in printing to what it’s like to paint: I can put something down, evaluate it, alter it, revise it, all in a matter of seconds.’

David Hockney (b. 1937), Man Reading Stendahl, 1986. Sheet 14 x 8½ in (356 x 216 mm). Estimate $2,500-3,500. Offered in Contemporary Edition, 9-17 July 2018, Online

David Hockney (b. 1937), Man Reading Stendahl, 1986. Sheet: 14 x 8½ in (356 x 216 mm). Estimate: $2,500-3,500. Offered in Contemporary Edition, 9-17 July 2018, Online

David Hockney (b. 1937), The Tall Tree, 1986. Sheet 28 x 8½ in (711 x 216 mm). Estimate $4,000-6,000. Offered in Contemporary Edition, 9-17 July 2018, Online

David Hockney (b. 1937), The Tall Tree, 1986. Sheet: 28 x 8½ in (711 x 216 mm). Estimate: $4,000-6,000. Offered in Contemporary Edition, 9-17 July 2018, Online

The process of printing with the copy machine is very similar to that of a traditional colour artist’s print. Each colour is drawn onto a separate sheet of paper. That colour is then printed onto each sheet of the edition. Once one colour has been completed, the printed sheets are loaded back into the machine and a sheet with another, separate colour is placed on the copy bed.

David Hockney (b. 1937), The Juggler, 1986. Image 12⅞ x 7¾ in (327 x 197 mm); sheet 14 x 8½ in (356 x 216 mm). Estimate $2,000-3,000. Offered in Contemporary Edition, 9-17 July 2018, Online

David Hockney (b. 1937), The Juggler, 1986. Image: 12⅞ x 7¾ in (327 x 197 mm); sheet: 14 x 8½ in (356 x 216 mm). Estimate: $2,000-3,000. Offered in Contemporary Edition, 9-17 July 2018, Online

In this way, the print remains rooted in the tradition of layering ink, giving the surface depth and dimensions. Had all of the colours been printed at once from one sheet the effect would have been far less interesting, appearing ‘flat’, as you would expect from a copier, with the layers removed.

David Hockney (b. 1937), Celia with Chair, 1986. Sheet 8⅜ x 10⅞ in (213 x 276 mm). Estimate $3,000-5,000. Offered in Contemporary Edition, 9-17 July 2018, Online

David Hockney (b. 1937), Celia with Chair, 1986. Sheet: 8⅜ x 10⅞ in (213 x 276 mm). Estimate: $3,000-5,000. Offered in Contemporary Edition, 9-17 July 2018, Online

What’s really interesting, though, is the way in which Hockney utilised the copy machine. ‘My interest in the [copying] machine was philosophical really,’ he explains. ‘I realised it was a printing machine and a camera of a new kind.’

The flat bed of the copier narrows the space between the object and the lens, reading the object much more closely. Essentially, the copy machine reads the object and then prints the object in two dimensions and from paper to paper, retaining its original materiality.

Hockney has used technology to explore mark-making and picture-making in a variety of new ways, and his experiments with Xerox printing were just the start. ‘I’ve always been interested in printing as a medium, and also as a medium through which my work can be known — can reach a public,’ he explains. ‘So I’ve taken an interest in any technology to do with image-making: printing, cameras, reproduction itself. 

‘Mediums can turn you on, they can excite you; they always let you do something in a different way’ — David Hockney

‘Lots of artists aren’t interested and don’t necessarily have to be. A painter needn’t care about any of them; he can still do interesting paintings just with brushes and paints. But I am  interested.’

In 1988, Hockney learned how to use a fax machine and began sending pictures to his friends. He even participated in the São Paolo Biennial via fax machine in 1989. He purchased a first-generation iPhone following its release by Apple in 2007, and in 2009 began experimenting in an app called Brushes. With this new technology he could create even more quickly and spontaneously. The release of the iPad in 2010 soon after allowed him a larger space.

‘I love new mediums,’ he states. ‘I think mediums can turn you on, they can excite you; they always let you do something in a different way. Even if you take the same subject, if you draw it in a different way, or if you are forced to simplify it — to make it bold because it is too finicky — I like that.’