Left David Hockney (b. 1937), The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven) - 24 April 2011, 2011. Image 49¾ x 37½ in (1264 x 953 mm). Sheet 55 x 41½ in (1397 x 1054 mm).

The iPad en plein air: two works by David Hockney

These expressive and naturalist meditations amplify Hockney's dedication to experimentation and pushing boundaries

When we think of David Hockney, often it is the use of colour found within his serial paintings of swimming pools, friends, and verdant landscapes that comes first. The artist is known for his use of sweeping, California sun-kissed shades — a vibrant red jacket refreshed by the cool azure of a swimming pool, or an incongruous splash interrupting the tranquillity of a muted afternoon. He does not paint realist, photographic images, but preserves moments in time through a saturated, interpretive perspective.

This legacy is the product of a lifetime of fearlessness in doing the unexpected. ‘Hockney has historically been drawn to experimentation across a wide array of mediums,’ says Mary Creed, Cataloguer in the Prints and Multiples department at Christie’s New York. ‘He pushed through the boundaries of what fine art is and could be, breaking down those traditional hierarchies of medium.’

David Hockney (b. 1937), Untitled No. 14 from The Yosemite Suite, 2010. Image 32 x 24 in (813 x 610 mm). Sheet 36⅞ x 27⅞ in (937 x 708 mm). Estimate $70,000–100,000. Offered in Contemporary Edition on 9 March 2022 at Christie’s in New York
David Hockney (b. 1937), Untitled No. 14 from The Yosemite Suite, 2010. Image: 32 x 24 in (813 x 610 mm). Sheet: 36⅞ x 27⅞ in (937 x 708 mm). Estimate: $70,000–100,000. Offered in Contemporary Edition on 9 March 2022 at Christie’s in New York

Yosemite Suite (2010) and The Arrival of Spring (2011) — two standouts from this year’s Contemporary Edition sale on 9 March — demonstrate this continued cultivation of risk through the use of technology. The iPad, his choice medium, is shown as a means to facilitate an instantaneous translation from sight to composition.

‘There is a fear that any artwork which utilizes technology, especially in a digital manner, creates a distance between the artist and their media,’ says Creed, ‘but there is an accessibility to these prints because you can imagine how they were created. With Hockney's paintings so much of the process is hidden, but with the iPad there’s much more evidence of mark making.’ Almost paradoxically, Hockney’s use of technology reveals the more tenuous human imperfections not found in his older acrylic works. It gives a window into how he moved his brush — or hand — across the tablet, through which we can clearly see the performative, gestural approach taken while creating these prints.

‘With Hockney's painting so much of the process is hidden, but with the iPad there’s much more evidence of mark making’ 

Untitled No. 14, from Yosemite Suite (2010), made on site at California’s Yosemite National Park with the Brushes app on his iPad, demonstrates this. Not having to cart around an easel, the tablet gives him the ability to react to what is in front of him without spending time setting up as he treks through the wilderness.

It should come as no surprise that Hockney thinks of the iPad as just another tool for drawing. Throughout his work, he has incorporated cameras, photocopiers and fax machines, even publishing a book about how Old Master painters used a camera lucida to help create the photorealism prevalent in the Renaissance. To him, this theory is not designed to question the validity of these works, but rather to portray how art evolves with the times, enabling a conversation between classical techniques, and the vanguard technology of a given era.

‘We see psychologically,’ he says, meaning that we all see the same things differently, filtered through our own experiences and memories. This is what informs his composition, rather than the tool he uses or his medium. ‘Hockney is in nature, looking at the light and taking note of what he sees,’ says Creed, ‘but then he adapts it so that it is not strictly visual representation. He’s processing it through his own personal lens, how he has witnessed the landscape change, using extremely bold and bright colours that aren’t necessarily an imitation of visual reality.’

David Hockney (b. 1937), The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven) - 24 April 2011, 2011. Image 49¾ x 37½ in (1264 x 953 mm). Sheet 55 x 41½ in (1397 x 1054 mm). Estimate $70,000–100,000. Offered in Contemporary Edition on 9 March 2022 at Christie’s in New York
David Hockney (b. 1937), The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven) - 24 April 2011, 2011. Image: 49¾ x 37½ in (1264 x 953 mm). Sheet: 55 x 41½ in (1397 x 1054 mm). Estimate: $70,000–100,000. Offered in Contemporary Edition on 9 March 2022 at Christie’s in New York

This is evident in The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven), part of the larger series which chronicles the atmospheric changes from winter to summer in the county where he grew up. The repetitive nature of his observations is similar to Claude Monet’s meditations on light in his series of haystacks, or the façade of the Rouen Cathedral. Like Monet painting the pond at Giverny, Hockney seeks to portray the nuance of change in a place which, as he remarked, has stayed largely the same throughout the years.

These prints are not what usually comes to mind when we think of Hockney’s work. Creed says that ‘they can be easy to write off, because it’s often our initial impulse to put traditional paintings at the pinnacle of the artistic hierarchy, and we get afraid of anything that can disrupt that. Made with materials contemporaneous with us, these prints possess the ability to speak to our individual experiences more clearly than paintings from decades ago. There’s an intimacy about using a material that was created in our lifetime, and having that be at the forefront of its reception.’