David Hockney at the National Portrait Gallery

Four screens in the David Hockney exhibition “Drawing from Life” in the – temporarily closed – National Portrait Gallery (@nationalportraitgallery) in London. The screens display some of Hockney’s iPad drawings, iPad portraits to be precise.

Hockney, currently the second highest selling living artist since Jeff Koons took over his number one spot, was a pioneer of computer aided art forms. In 1985 Hockney already used a dedicated graphical computer and software on it to sketch directly on a screen. The machine used was a Quantel Paintbox. Later Hockney used the more affordable Photoshop software on a regular PC and eventually started drawing/painting on iPhones and iPads when they became available.

Starting out as bit a bit of a gimmick, sending the works to friends, it later became a proven technique, using it even to paint landscapes and design – by commission – one of the commemorative stained glass windows in Westminster Abbey. The Fondation Yves Saint Laurent (@museeyslparis) in 2010 held an exhibition of more than 200 works created on the iPhone and the iPad. They were presented in their original format – so on actual iPads and iPhones – in order to respect the artist’s intention to display luminous, colorful images.

The Van Gogh Museum (@vangoghmuseum) in Amsterdam showed several prints of iPad artworks and had multiple large screens showing the process of the painting in its (beautiful!) “Hockney – Van Gogh” exhibition last year.

The National Portrait Gallery show – which I was lucky to see just after opening and before the museums in the UK closed down – also chose to use large screens instead of actual iPads. Obviously more people are able to enjoy the works at the same time in this way, but it misses some of the original context.