Digital art for a digital age

By Miriam Shelley

At the beginning of May this year, world-renowned British artist David Hockney released his latest exhibit, a digital sunrise sequence depicting the early spring mornings of Normandy. The work, titled Remember you cannot look at the sun or death for very long, is Hockney’s latest iPad artwork, created by the artist during lockdown, and was broadcast on the screens of Piccadilly circus, along with several other digital billboards around the world too, every evening last month.

This installation is the artist’s depiction of spring through the reactionary lens against the stifling nature of the pandemic, and it beautifully captures the season and reinvigorates the work of the artist. Hockney is a leading figure in the digital art world, as the medium of this latest release from the artist falls in line with his shift to the predominant creation of his artwork from an iPad since 2009. The digital medium acts as a tool to entirely exemplify the colours and reinforce the vitality of spring. The digital screens create a lucid vibrancy that arguably cannot be achieved to the same extent in physical work.  

The digital medium acts as a tool to entirely exemplify the colours and reinforce the vitality of spring

This exhibition certainly differs significantly from Hockney’s earlier twentieth-century artworks. If his latest depictions of the seasons, such as this example or in other collections such as the current Royal Academy exhibit The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020, a collection championing a joyous unfolding of the seasons through the championing of spring, are compared with his much earlier more human subject focused works such as the renowned A Bigger Splash (1967), there is a world of contrasts in terms of medium and subject matter. Therefore although his work might not be worlds apart in terms of colour and vitality, the subjects of his artwork have certainly altered. Hockney has admitted that an increased focus on nature in the past year or so had undoubtedly been reactionary to the pandemic, and this is evident across all of his recent work.

Hockney, therefore, innovates traditional forms like still life, and the contemporary nature of the digital medium he uses brings life to what some may interpret as dated artistic subjects. This is why it is unsurprising that Hockney has achieved the ability to be one of the most renowned and yet equally one of the most unconventional artists living today.

One of the most renowned and yet equally one of the most unconventional artists living today

Central to the pop art movement across the twentieth century, from Yorkshire to Los Angeles, and still frequently releasing new exhibits, Hockney has established his work across generations. His work, however, surpasses artistic boundaries too. The artist sees these new tools as a contribution to the creative process rather than a loss of creativity as some may suggest, and if anything this is a clear positive tribute to the digital future of art.

It can therefore be questioned whether the future of visual arts lies in conjunction entirely with the digital world. It is undeniable that the two have become inherently linked, and Hockney demonstrates that the use of digital mediums within the art world is not as transformative as it may sound, and is instead a way to increase exploration and practicality in the many ways that art can be created. 

Image: Jenni Last via flickr.

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