Smart phones are nothing if not agents of distraction, with their games, beepers, and blinking lights invading our privacy and commanding our attention. But the British painter David Hockney has found a way to mine the iPhone’s capacity for contemplative beauty. Since 2009 Hockney has used the Brushes application, in combination with other apps, to create images that he draws directly onto an iPhone (and, more recently, an iPad) with his fingers, sharing his radiant peonies and digital dawns with a select group of friends via a touch of the send button. “David Hockney: Fleurs Fraîches,” an exhibition devoted to his e-paintings, opens this month at the Fondation Pierre Bergé–Yves Saint Laurent in Paris, where the artworks will be shown on iPhones and iPads and through digital projections.
“It’s a lesson in drawing,” says curator Charlie Scheips, who organized the exhibition. Reached by telephone in his Bridlington, Yorkshire, studio, Hockney concurs. “One of the appeals of these works is that they are very obviously hand drawn,” he says. “And because they were made by hand, on something very similar to what you are holding in your hand, you feel quite close to them.”
Many other artists have drawn on their correspondence, but Hockney’s ethereal images, flashing across the screens of handheld devices, confuse traditional notions of value. “When I send them out to people,” the artist explains, “the last thing they ask is, How much is it worth? They know it can’t be worth too much if you’ve e-mailed it to them. Yet it’s not a reproduction.” Luminously beautiful, Hockney’s flowers also provide a respite from the in-box’s daily barrage of requests and information. “People tell me they open my e-mails first,” he says with satisfaction, “because they aren’t demands and you don’t need to reply. They’re simply for pleasure.”