The Ministry of Artistic Affairs
Wednesday, August 10, 2011

After last having a major exhibition in Canada almost a quarter-century ago, legendary British artist David Hockney returns to these shores this fall with a big, audacious show of vibrant, colour-drenched drawings at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

Not drawings on paper, mind you – that is so 20th-century! – but drawings done on iPhone and iPad. Called "David Hockney’s Fresh Flowers", the exhibition will feature 100 iPhone drawings displayed on 20 iPod Touches, plus 100 iPad drawings displayed on 20 iPads. In addition, there will be a triptych slide show of 169 other images and eight large-scale animated projections of some of Hockney’s most recent pixilated drawings.

Organized by the ROM’s Institute for Contemporary Culture, the exhibition opens on Oct. 8 for a run of almost three months. It had its premiere last October at the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves St. Laurent in Paris, then “moved,” so to speak, to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art near Copenhagen, where it’s currently appearing under the rubric Me Draw on iPad.

So far, Toronto is the only confirmed North American showcase. Hockney’s last big Canadian show in a public gallery was an exhibition of photographs at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in the fall of 1987.

Hockney, who turned 74 this month, got his first iPhone in 2008 and almost immediately began to use its Brushes application, among others, to produce works on the screen. He then urged friends and relatives to get iPhones so that he could send them what he was creating. Two years later, he was doing the same with his new iPad, calling it “the most spontaneous medium he’s ever found ... a luminous medium very good for luminous subjects” like flowers, plants, landscapes, sunrises and sunsets. So enamoured is Hockney of the iPad that now all his Savile Row suits, including tuxedos, are fitted with interior pockets sized to carry the device.

“David’s always playing with things and making them Hockney-esque,” Charlie Scheips, a long-time friend and former chief assistant, explained recently in a phone interview from Paris. It’s Scheips who curated Fresh Flowers, or David Hockney: Fleurs fraîches, as it was called in France.

Fax machines, office photocopiers, Polaroids – Hockney has used them all to produce art that blurs the line between original and reproduction. In the eighties, Scheips said, “he did pictures unique to the printing process where he’d give separations for a four-colour image to a newspaper or magazine and the first time it appeared, it would be an original in that magazine or newspaper.”

The origins of Fresh Flowers date back to a lunch Scheips and Hockney had in 2006 with Yves St. Laurent and Pierre Bergé at what had been the St. Laurent couture house on avenue Marceau in Paris. Bergé, co-founder of the St. Laurent empire as well as the designer’s former lover, told his guests that the house was going to be turned into an archive and a gallery (St. Laurent retired in 2002) and asked whether Hockney would like to prepare an exhibit for the new space. Mais d’accord.

For the next couple of years, sundry ideas were batted around, none of them capturing anyone’s imagination. Finally, Scheips suggested an exhibition of iPhone drawings, an idea “which Pierre loved” – provided, of course, it wouldn’t “look like an Apple store.”

To date, Hockney has created more than 1,000 digital images, with more coming all the time. One of the great advantages of the medium, besides its tidiness (No brushes to clean! No pots of water to put away! No smocks to launder!), is that it allows Hockney to “draw” new iPictures, then, if he wishes, to send them electronically from his home in East Yorkshire to, say, the ROM. In this way, Fresh Flowers would kept perpetually, well . . . fresh – the exhibition as movable visual feast.

David Hockney
"Fresh Flowers: Drawings on iPhones and iPads"
Royal Ontario Museum, Roloff Beny Gallery, Level 4
100 Queen’s Park, Toronto
October 8, 2011 to January 1, 2012

By James Adams for the Globe and Mail.