One day last summer I got a text message from David Hockney. It read: “I’ll send you today’s dawn this afternoon, an absurd sentence I know, but you know what I mean.” Later on it duly arrived: pale pink, mauve and apricot clouds drifting over the Yorkshire coast in the first light of a summer’s day. It was as delicate as a Turner, luminous as stained glass and as hi-tech as any art being made in the world today. Hockney had drawn it on his iPhone.
He first started using that Apple gadget in late 2008. Since then he has produced hundreds of drawings on his iPhone and – beginning last spring – on his iPad, too. Some of these will go on show next week in an exhibition David Hockney: Fleurs Fraîches at the Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, Paris (Oct 21 to Jan 30).
The title comes from one of Hockney’s favourite sayings from the first half of last year. “I draw flowers every day on my iPhone,” he told me then, “and send them to my friends, so they get fresh flowers every morning. And my flowers last. Not only can I draw them as if in a little sketchbook, I can also then send them to 15 or 20 people who then get them that morning when they wake up.”
The novelty of what he has been doing is two-fold. Firstly, this is a new medium with fresh possibilities, requiring unorthodox techniques. Hockney executed the drawings mainly with the edge of his thumb; you can’t use the thumbnail, he says, because the device is sensitive to heat, not just touch. The second innovation is in the method of distribution. He sends these techno-sketches out to friends, who may then pass them on, collect them or do whatever they want.