David Hockney, well known as a painter and draftsman, is also a versatile multi-disciplinary artist who has embraced technology in surprising ways. It comes as no surprise that he has adopted the iPad as another new-fangled artistic tool to make electronic sketches in situ. His “Yosemite Suite” is a series of these works created during visits to the Yosemite Valley in 2010 and 2011. Using the consumer application Brushes and a custom stylus, Hockney captured the mountainous landscapes as vibrantly colored lines and textures that sweep across the screen in both broad and refined gestures. He later transformed these images into large-scale and multi-panel prints that unbelievably retain the translucency and spontaneity of the originals.
Depictions of Yosemite have been popular subjects for landscape photographers including Ansel Adams and Carleton Watkins, who created classic black and white images of the valley and surrounding mountains. Hockney’s images have a Fauvist palette and are more expressionist and impressionistic than documentary. The images appear as sketch-like doodles, often in garish colors as in “Untitled No 5 from the Yosemite Suite” (2010), which depicts a purple road receding into the distance, surrounded by tall abstracted trees with green leaves, brown branches and bright red trunks. The red likely signals Redwood trees, yet no redwood is that vibrant. Similarly, “Untitled No 4 from the Yosemite Suite” (2010) presents the landscape in heightened color. Here pink tree-trunks cast dark purple shadows onto an orange ground. Yellow flowers presented as dots are surrounded by Kelly green bushes that float in front of a light blue sky. The rays of a child-like yellow sun filter through the composition.
Hockney successfully captures the spirit of Yosemite—its density, floral variety and towering peaks. The only thing lacking in these finished prints is the process of their making. Drawing on the iPad allows for endless revisions as the surface is built up using different sized lines and textured brushes with different levels of transparency. Though not on view in the exhibition, the Brushes app provides a way to record the creation of a work, and looking at Hockney’s iPad drawings through this playback feature provides amazing insight into the time, care and complexity involved in the creation of each work. These pieces are much, much more than random electronic gestures.
David Hockney, “The Yosemite Suite,” July 13 – October 1, 2016 at L.A. Louver, 45 North Venice Boulevard, Venice, CA, lalouver.com