David Hockney’s Fresh Flowers

December 13th, 2011

Location: Royal Ontario Museum – Institute for Contemporary Culture, 100 Queen's Park, Toronto, ON  View Google Map
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David Hockney is not the first artist to create works using an iPad, but he is perhaps the most surprising. Hockney, at age 74, is one of the elder statesmen of the British art scene with a prolific career that began as a Pop Art pioneer in the 1960s. Never one to shy away from new media or experimental techniques, he began investigating the possibility of creating digital artworks on his iPhone in 2008 when he discovered the Brushes app that made it possible to sketch by swiping his finger across the device’s touchscreen. With the iPad’s release in 2010, Hockney transitioned to this larger canvas, using it as a digital sketchbook that accompanies him everywhere, to create spontaneous drawings that he emailed to friends. David Hockney’s Fresh Flowers, the only North American presentation of this touring exhibition, includes a selection of more than 200 drawings from this series of iPhone and iPad still lifes, landscapes and portraits that collectively challenge the boundaries of art and technology.

The exhibition’s installation is as unconventional as the technique Hockney used to create the works. Angled walls divide the rather bizarre Institute for Contemporary Culture’s gallery space at the top of the ROM’s “crystal” addition into a maze-like atmosphere with iPads and iPhones arranged in rows and grids waiting to be discovered around every corner. This was our first experience with an exhibition that used smartphones and tablets as the sole means of presentation and it made a palpable difference in our engagement with the works – more so than we had imagined. In fact, this exhibition is a must-see more to witness the ambitious and innovative presentation than the works themselves. Each device holds a number of drawings that slowly transition from one to the next as you take in the object. Fresh Flowers also includes many large projections scattered throughout the gallery that animate the artist’s process, tracing the evolution of the works from one finger stroke to a surprisingly detailed landscape or still life. As this was our last stop in a long day of gallery-hopping, we’re not sure if we were suffering from fatigue by the time we got to the Hockney show, but we found these slideshows of vibrant flowers and pastoral landscapes to possess cathartic and meditative qualities. Despite Hockney’s use of flashy media, the works themselves are quiet and delicate.

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