Creative inspiration from David Hockney

Screen Shot 2012-01-30 at 10.09.01This is one of my slightly "off-piste" posts, this time drawing inspiration from the art world.

Last Sunday I went with my family to see the David Hockney exhibition, A Bigger Picture, at the Royal Academy in London. It was one of most amazing exhbitions I've seen in years and I came out feeling energized and inspired. The paintings are all of landscapes, captured in brilliant, vivid, bright colours. If you are in London in the next couple of months, I recommend it as a great way to spend a couple of hours.

I also found Hockney to be an inspiring example of a guy "keeping it fresh",  maintaining his energy and productivity, a subject I posted on earlier this year. After all, here is a guy into his 70's who is still performing at a high level, both in terms of quality and quantity. The exhibition runs to 11 galleries inside the Royal Academy, most of it featuring recent paintings.

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So, here is some creative inspiration from Hockney's approach.

1. Use of new technology

One of the most amazing bits of the exhibition is a huge hall full with 52 paintings of a wooded area in East Yorkshire near where Hockney now lives. Of these, 51 of the paintings have been done on an iPad, a tool that Hockney has embraced with enthusiasm. And this is not just a gimmick to catch attention. He finds that the iPad allows him to quickly capture a moment in time in all its glory, without the need to set up an easel and paints, as reported on the Royal Academy website:

"In two seconds, Hockney found, he could establish the basic colour and tone of a sky, and put in some faint clouds in three seconds. The iPad is faster than watercolour, in which washes have to dry, or even coloured pencils."

In fact, Hockney's interest in using new technology in his art goes back in a long way. In 1985, he was commissioned to draw with a computer program called the Quantel Paintbox, that allowed the him to sketch directly onto the screen.

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2. Going back to your roots

Hockney lived for over 30 years in LA, but came back to the UK in 2006, reportedly because of the intolerance towards smoking in California! He chose to live in a seaside town on the North East coast of England called Bridlington, where his mother used to live. Now for those of you who have not been to Bridlington, let me just say its aint Malibu.

His surroundings now might lack the glamour and the sunshine of LA, but this change has been asscoiated with a period of incredible productivity. One interviewer noted: "Even in his 70s, David Hockney’s enthusiasm is boyish, his work rate ferocious."

3. Happy accidents

Many innovations and creative achievements come not from carefully planned strategies, but what I call "happy accidents". You experiment, spot something that works and do more of it. Hockney's experience with the iPad is an example of this, as he explains:

"I had begun drawing the changing scene on the iPad in the New Year, then, when I’d printed out five or six iPad drawings on a big scale, I began to realise, my God, you could do the whole room with this method. As the spring developed I realised that I had to move in closer because it was all about what was happening on the ground. Grasses came up, the first campion flowers, buttercups, dandelions. I kept going back to the same places."

Screen Shot 2012-01-30 at 10.13.12 A happy accident also helped Hockney came up with his photo-collage style, created with many Poloroid snaps (see example on the left), that he started using back in 1970, as a writer explains:

"He was working on a painting of a living room and terrace in Los Angeles. He took Polaroid shots of the living room and glued them together, not intending for them to be a composition on their own. Upon looking at the final composition, he realized it created a narrative, as if the viewer was moving through the room. He began to exclusively pursue this new style of photography." 



4. Personal branding

Finally, its interesting to see how Hockney has cultivated his own personal brand. He has maintained over 40+ years a distinctive and recognizable set of "brand properties": the round spectacles, the ever-present cigarette, the short blonde, now greying, hair. Many other famous artists and creative people (Andy Warhol, Karl Lagerfeld, Steve Jobs) have done the same thing, helping them take on inonic status.

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In conclusion, Hockney's recent work shows the power of combining new technology and re-connecting with your roots, and the potential of happy accidents to be the spark of innovation.

And do try and see the exhibition if you can 🙂