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David Hockney's iPad drawings go big, 12 feet big

A giant exhibit at San Francisco's DeYoung Museum highlights the influential artist's foray into iPhone and iPad art, as well as films he made using multiple digital cameras.

"Yosemite I, October 16th 2011," one panel in David Hockney's series "Bigger Yosemite."
David Hockney

There are iPad drawings you look at on a screen, and there are iPad drawings printed on sheets of 3x6-foot paper and mounted on a giant wall. One might call the latter a David Hockney-style iPad drawing.

Hang five such works together and you have "Bigger Yosemite," a series of wonderfully vibrant drawings of Yosemite's rocks, trees, and waterfalls that each measures 9 feet wide by 12 feet high. The piece now hangs in San Francisco's De Young Museum as part of "David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition," a comprehensive survey of more than 300 works made since 2002 by the influential British painter, stage designer, and photographer.

The exhibit, which runs through January 20 across two floors, highlights Hockney's ability to engage with, and master, a wide variety of tools and media. It includes watercolors, charcoals, simple pencil drawings, and oil paintings, but also encompasses 17 works made on an iPad and then printed out on paper, and 147 other iPad and iPhone drawings that rotate on seven LED displays.

"Yosemite II, October 5th 2011," another panel from David Hockney's "Bigger Yosemite" series. (Click to enlarge.) David Hockney

"Hockney has always been keen to discover and explore new technologies as soon as they became available," says an audio tour for the exhibit. "In the early days of the photocopier, Canon would send him experimental cartridges just to see what he'd do with them. His fax collages conjured something inspired out of a seemingly dull piece of office equipment."

Hockney, 76, started making iPhone drawings with the Brushes app five years ago -- flowers, dogs, sunrises and sunsets, landscapes, portraits, self-portraits, and more. He said he was struck by the portability of this new digital sketchbook and the immediacy of being able to create a painting and e-mail it to friends within hours.

When the iPad first came out in 2010, Hockney immediately took to its larger canvas.

With "Bigger Yosemite," the canvas has gotten extra large. Hockney made two trips to Yosemite National Park to capture its spectacles in pixels, and works from his latter visit, in 2011, form "Bigger Yosemite," which has grabbed much attention since the DeYoung exhibit opened over the weekend.

Amazing mobile art, of course, is becoming increasingly common, from subtly shaded portraits made entirely on the iPad to remarkably enhanced photos that fall under the rubric of iPhoneography, an emerging art form that's catching the eyes and talents of iPhone-toting established and citizen artists worldwide.

Still, Hockney -- an influential contributor to the pop-art movement of the '60s who has spent decades working with oils on canvas -- might just be the most prominent touch-screen artist yet.

"You know sometimes I get so carried away, I wipe my fingers at the end thinking that I've got paint on them," Hockney said in 2010, when more than 200 of his images of plants and cut flowers created on the iPhone and iPad went on display in Paris.

Hockney is experimenting with moving digital images, as well. The DeYoung exhibit also includes "Cubist movies" he made using as many as 18 separate digital cameras, mounted on a grid, that record the action simultaneously to produce a film with as many as 18 perspectives. In making the movies, Hockney has addressed a challenge first taken up by Picasso: how to display multiple perspectives in one work of art.

"Friends tell me how a lot of things -- pop music, for instance -- are 'stuck,'" the artist said in a catalog for the show. "But the relentless march of new technology offers hope."