By Roger Highfield and Boris Jardine
Imagine being able to see David Hockney create a new work, stroke by stroke, before your very eyes.
Now imagine this work is a portrait, providing an insight into the way Hockney composes his famous likenesses. Even better, the subject is none other than the distinguished Cambridge University cosmologist, Stephen Hawking.
For the next three weeks the Science Museum will display an animated version of Hockney’s portrait to provide its visitors with a rare opportunity to see how the artist’s skill has evolved since he was first introduced to the Apple gadget, the iPhone, in late 2008 and then the iPad.
The story of how Hockney came to draw new portrait of Hawking began last December, as we were putting the final touches to a museum exhibit to celebrate Stephen Hawking’s 70th birthday. We were going to show a rarely seen Hockney portrait, dating from 1978, owned by Hawking’s first wife, Jane. What about an iPad portrait too?
Hockney and Hawking were excited by our idea. Arrangements were made to bring them together before the opening of David Hockney’s triumphant A Bigger Picture exhibition at the Royal Academy but they had to be put on hold as Stephen Hawking fell ill, also missing his birthday celebrations in Cambridge and the museum.
For his iPad art Hockney uses an app called ‘Brushes’, which removes the need to cart around supplies, easel and palette. This is faster than watercolour, or even than coloured pencils. He can use thumbs and fingers, or a stylus, modifying the hue and colour and layering brushstrokes of various widths and opacities.
From today the animated portrait will be on display to the public as part of the Science Museum’s Stephen Hawking: A 70th birthday celebration display.
The portrait begins at the top of Hawking’s head on a beige background. A simple sketch of Hawking’s bespectacled face peers out early on, adorned with violet eyes. Pencil-like strokes add detail, and paint-can sprays fill in his cobalt suit, a light blue cravat, computer screen and shadows. After a while, Hawking’s face gets its hue, polka-dots appear on his cravat and the broader contours of his wheelchair emerge. His hands are moved and a joystick, green background and overhead light installed before Hockney returns to work on his face. Again and again the artist plays with shading and skin tone before the final portrait of the world-famous cosmologist emerges.
Seeing the iPad portrait emerge next to the 1978 line-drawing offers an intriguing comparison — the technology is so different, but, whether paper or a digital drawing pad, it’s Hockney’s draughtsmanship and Hawking’s instantly recognizable face that are the focus.
This animated tablet art is the latest in Hockney’s long flirtation with technology which has seen him work with multi-screens, high definition video, colour photocopiers, faxes and, of course, the iPad and iPhone too. One is left in no doubt that science has a profound impact on art and culture through its application in technology.
The movie joins other artefacts in the 70th birthday display, which also includes a specially recorded message for the Science Museum and a selection of photographs from Hawking’s life and career that haven’t been seen before. The celebration ends on April 9.
Photographs Copyright Judith Croasdell