iPad Paintings: a visit to the David Hockney exhibition, The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020 at the RA

David Hockney The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020

Under an overcast sky, threatening rain, I and my eldest son set off to see the David Hockney exhibition, The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020 at the Royal Academy, Burlington House. I have wanted to see this show ever since it opened. Thwarted by Covid restrictions and extreme hot weather, today is the day we can at last make the visit.

In the gallery

Entering the exhibition the first thing you see is a screen showing a video of No. 262 28th April 2020 iPad painting with a drawn animation of rain. I love it! And I can’t wait to have a go using animation on my iPad (once upon a time, long ago, I used to animate the old fashion way with numerous old school hand-drawn cels (celluloids).

I’ve painted a Mockney!

Unable to show you the David Hockney animation (you’ll have to go to the RA to see that) I have mocked up my own version! A rainy scene in Sandy, Bedfordshire, titled 01, 29th July 2021. The titles of all 116 of Hockney’s paintings in the exhibition are numbers and dates. They are images of a lockdown journal, and have no names.

No. 01, Lesley Scoble, 29th July 2021 iPad painting ©️Lesley Scoble

My iPad painting of rain is not as bright as the Hockney which has a pink path and yellow rain (I’m afraid I need to explore my *Synesthesia zone (see paragraph below) and work on the bright colours… or maybe, live in France…

David Hockney The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020

The immediate impression of this exhibition is a happy and bright one. The almost garish colours lift my spirit.

Key 106 David Hockney, No. 340, 31st May 2020 IPad painting ©️David Hockney
Key 47 David Hockney, No. 186, 11th April 2020 ©️David Hockney
Key 65 David Hockney, No. 259, 24th April 2020 iPad painting ©️David Hockney

©️ David Hockney, iPad paintings

I gaze around the gallery at the paintings of Hockney’s days spent in Normandy during Lockdown and enjoy listening to other visitors comments about the works (I’m prone to accidental eavesdropping). ‘He’s a genius’ came up pretty often. The word ‘simple’ cropped up more than once.
Simple is not a simple thing to get! I find the simplicity of the paintings a delight. Some negative critics have called the work childlike. What was that famous Picasso quote about drawing like a child?

“It took me four years to learn how to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

— Pablo Picasso


Why have I mentioned synesthesia? I’m just wondering if it has anything to do with the desire to paint like a child in a bright simplistic way?
Synesthesia is a sensory phenomenon normally found in babies of two to three months old. And disappears by the age of eight months. This suggests to me that Picasso worked hard to reclaim these early months when as an infant he could taste and feel colour. Perhaps David Hockney with these recent works has the same aim?

Key 16, David Hockney, No. 118, 16th March 2020 iPad painting ©️David Hockney

Synesthesia is a condition where you can taste, feel colours and see sound. Apparently, over seven percent of adults who have synesthesia are artists!
Van Gogh suffered from the then undiagnosed mental health condition Bipolar. Maybe he was also a synesthete? Synesthesia is not a mental disorder, but he may have had this neurological mixing of the senses. Which could well account for the vivid colours Van Gogh is so famous for.

Vincent Van Gogh

But just because an artist likes to paint in bright colours doesn’t signify that he has kept the babyhood sensory condition into adulthood, does it? Hockney might just like brightening up our lives during one of the most awful lockdown periods of our lives.

iPad painting of the moon

In the RA catalogue David Hockney in conversation with Edith Devaney explains how the backlit iPad enables painting in the dark — “If you did the drawings on paper, you’d need light on the paper, you can’t work in the dark out there. But on an iPad you can, because it’s backlit.”

Key 93 David Hockney, No. 370, 2nd May 2020 IPad painting ©️David Hockney
Key 93 David Hockney, No. 370, 2nd May 2020 IPad painting ©️ David Hockney

Oil painting by the light of the moon (and a bicycle lamp)

When I painted this little oil, the iPad didn’t exist.

Puerto de Andraitx in moonlight, oil sketch painted in situ (en plein air)
Puerto de Andraitx, Mallorca, | en plein air, at night | oil painting | Lesley Scoble

I was alone on a jetty in the Port of Andraitx, Mallorca, in the middle of the night, sitting with my feet dangling over the water and a bicycle lamp hooked on the neck of my t-shirt. The light was enough for me to see by and sort out the paraphernalia of paints, brushes, turps etc. (no iPad!).

I was alone with the landscape and the moon. Until two Spanish police on night patrol approached me and started chatting and asking if I was alright?
“I was alright, till you turned up!” I said, irritated.
Nice of them to ask, but I was doing a ‘Greta Garbo’ and wanted to be alone.

Finally, when the two police officers went on their way, I resumed painting the picture, only stopping when the battery of the bicycle lamp expired.
I shall never forget the beauty of that Mallorcan summer night.

When painting outside ‘en plein air’ you always remember the smells, atmosphere—the where, when and what you see. The moment.

*Greta Garbo, film star, quote “I want to be alone” from 1932 film Grand Hotel.

iPad Art

Ever since I got my first iPad I have liked digital art and enjoy drawing with the most expensive pencil in the world that is the Apple Pencil! Shakespeare’s Hamlet may ask ‘the question’ – ‘2B or not 2B?’ (notice the pun here?). But the iPad can give you any pencil you want. Not to mention all the extra brushes it has at its tip!

I sometimes contend with remarks from some traditionalists saying that it’s ‘a cheat’ painting on an iPad. Is it cheating? It is a remarkable tool of artistic expression and it ain’t as easy as it looks! 

So what? It is the result that counts, isn’t it? I can’t imagine Leonardo Da Vinci saying no to designing his helicopter upon it—or capturing another smile from the Mona Lisa.

Digital reproduction

To display iPad paintings, you either display them on a screen or they have to be printed. There has been criticism about how prints can lose the luminosity that the iPad screen affords the images, but I liked the quality of the prints at this exhibition. The works hang edged in a simple frame and enlarged from iPad dimensions to exhibition optimum size of 1.5 x 1 metre paintings. The printing of the pictures is on a smooth surface with a matt finish. They have a slight chalky and ‘acrylic painty inkjetty’ sort of appearance.

Key 6 David Hockney, No. 88, 3rd March 2020 ©️David Hockney

I think, with this exhibition David Hockney has helped validate the iPad as a professional artist tool. Artists can now, with pride, call their work ‘Digital Art’ without apology. He has helped legitimise the use of the computer in art. Perhaps convincing many die-hard opponents and traditionalists. 

No Photography

Request of the artist prohibits photography within the gallery. These days this request is unusual. I suppose, one problem with digital art is that it is easier to copy and reproduce original works than it is to fake an oil painting! However, this doesn’t mean you can, and copyright laws still apply.

Scenery painting

All the paintings in this Hockney exhibition are unpeopled. There are no transitory live creatures within them. Nothing that will need to move, other than the leaves on the trees that may move with the wind and drop from the tree in the autumn. There is no bird in the tree, or in the sky; no cat curled up on a chair. There are no people. No figures. 

They remind me of the brief when I first began painting scenery backcloths for the theatre. I was told “Paint nothing into the scene that can move” (don’t tell anybody, but I sometimes painted in a tiny mouse, when I had the time!). Hockney’s pictures seem to follow this very brief. There is nothing in them that will look strange by still being in the same position half an hour hence. The paintings are scenic. Pure and simple. Perfect for stage backcloths! (or hang on your wall, of course).

The paintings are the real life backcloths of David Hackney’s home in Normandy.

Key 81 David Hockney, No. 316, 30th April 2020 iPad painting ©️David Hockney

Stage backcloths

This photo montage from an old portfolio shows me standing in the centre of my backcloth taking a photo with my old Pentax at the studio workshop for Theatre Royal, Lincoln. It is coincidental that the image echoes the Hockney’s collage photos he produced! It’s just what you did with 35m photo prints to make a bigger panorama.

I stand in the centre of one of my stage backcloths taking a photo with my old Pentax | Theatre Royal, Lincoln | Photo: Malvin

Some of the leaf repeats in the David Hockney paintings reminded me of how we painted many leaves in the woodland scenes with leaf shapes cut out in sponge on the end of a stick. I presume his specially formatted paint app has a brush for the leaf motif?

My backcloths on stage with the cast of Babes in the Wood | Photo ©️Lesley Scoble

I was a scenic artist at the Theatre Royal Lincoln. Where I painted 30 backcloths 50’ x 30’ in 3 months! Sometimes painting through the night to meet deadlines.

I also painted for productions at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, at the Phil Parsons studio, London.

Adding finishing touches to a backcloth
Solving problems and drinking coffee at the Theatre Royal

Heavy rain

Leaving the exhibition and the bright light of the Normandy spring, we step out into Piccadilly and the heavens open and it pours with rain. Which means a mad dash for shelter in a nearby tavern. The Golden Lion is where we dive into to avoid a drenching. A young homesick Italian barman pours us a beer (when the rain is pouring, it’s time for pouring beer!) and bemoans the weather. He tells me how he yearns for the tropical sun of last week. I feel sorry for him as I imagine him in his bright sunny homeland singing O Sole Mio.

A drink and a perusal of the Hockney catalogue in the Golden Lion | Photo: Lesley Scoble

Eventually, after a perusal of the catalogue and a couple of glasses of Wimbledon ale, the time comes to leave the shelter of the pub. The friendly Italian barman waves arrivederci with a hail “Buona giornata” and we leave the pub in a metaphorical ray of Italian sunshine.

Outside, the rain shows no sign of abating. I shrug my shoulders and end up getting my feet wet dancing in a puddle in Green Park.

“When life throws you a rainy day, play in the puddles”.

Winnie the Pooh

Dancing in a puddle in Green Park, London | Photo: Daniel Perkin

Splishing splashing splosh 
Oh my goodness, oh my gosh!
Wearing white trousers in the rain?
Shall I get them clean again?

Feet squelch in sodden shoes
But who cares!

Puddles are for jumping in.

Lesley Scoble, July 2021

Stay safe, and keep your powder dry ☔️

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