In 2010, David Hockney visited Yosemite National Park equipped with a brand-new invention: the iPad. Released by Apple earlier that year, the iPad was fast becoming a popular gadget, but Hockney was one of the first to realize its full potential as an artistic tool. Relishing the immediacy of working on the device, Hockney set about creating 24 iPad drawings en plein air which he titled The Yosemite Suite. In doing so, Hockney asserted himself as an artist for the technological age and brought a unique and pioneering aesthetic to the Yosemite Valley, California – a region which has long served as an arena for artists to showcase their skills.
David Hockney holding his iPad at the exhibition David Hockney: A Bigger Picture, Guggenheim, Bilbao, 2012. Image: REUTERS / Alamy Stock Photo
In 2010 Apple released the first iPad and Hockney’s printmaking technique was once again transformed. Having already experimented with lithography, etching and screen printing, he now turned to the digital to achieve his characteristically striking compositions in bold colors. Indeed, Hockney purchased one of the first iPads when released by Apple and was excited by the larger screen as compared to the iPhone. Once he mastered the Brushes app, he uses to draw this first series of landscape from the Yosemite National Park, directly from the motif, en plein air. They were released a year later in a limited edition of fine prints.
Albert Bierstadt, Merced River, Yosemite Valley, 1866. Image: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Gift of the sons of William Paton, 1909, 09.214.1
Since the mid-19th century, artists have flocked to the Yosemite Valley, attempting to capture its dramatic scenery and towering rock formations. Published in 1855 – the first widely published images of Yosemite – lithographs after Thomas Ayer’s drawings highlight the beauty and expanse of the unspoilt landscape. Depictions by painters soon followed, with the Hudson River School’s Albert Bierstadt creating Merced River, Yosemite Valley (1866), which currently hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. By the mid-20th century, Yosemite had become one of America’s first designated National Parks as well as a chief source of inspiration for the photographer Ansel Adams, whose images of the region are amongst the most widely recognized. Today, The Ansel Adams Gallery – situated in Yosemite Village – displays original works by Adams, alongside contemporary artists’ responses to the landscape, and aims to educate visitors about the rich artistic culture that has become central to the history of Yosemite.
Ansel Adams, Yosemite Valley, Summer, 1935 (negative), 1976-1979 (print). Image: Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert A. Hauslohner, 1976-213-81, Artwork: © Ansel Adams Publishing Trust
In drawing Yosemite, Hockney actively engages with the region’s important visual history. He offers a refreshing and modern take on the iconic landscape, rendered through distinct digital brushstrokes and his trademark colorful palette. Brushes – Hockney’s favorite app to create work on at the time – allowed the artist to easily draw in situ and experiment with different types of mark making. Utilizing blurring tools and different densities of line, Brushes allowed Hockney to create layered images with both depth and atmosphere.
The Yosemite Suite, Pace Gallery, Palo Alto
Hockney took his iPad to Yosemite National Park in California and proceeded to ‘paint’ 24 views of this majestic valley using the Brushes app. The ease of using a digital medium allowed him to work en plein air just like artists such as Monet and Turner whom he admired. Before David Hockney would have had to use watercolor or pen and ink to make preparatory sketches before transferring the work to an etching plate or lithographic stone but with the iPad he could work directly onto the screen, picking and choosing from hundreds of shades of color and thicknesses of brush without ever getting his hands dirty. And here color abounds. The works recall his paintings and prints from the ’90s with their bold clashing tones – at their most extreme the prints depict bright pink roads, electric blue shadows and acid green trees. Elsewhere the colors are toned down and the contrasts subtly blended.
The Yosemite Suite, Gallery Lelong, Paris
Recognizing the impact of scale in such a setting, Hockney was inspired to experiment with transposing his iPad drawings into large format prints: each print in The Yosemite Suite measures almost a meter by two thirds of a meter, roughly four times the size of the iPad screen on which they were produced. Like the subject they depict, the scale and vibrancy of Hockney’s Yosemite prints are eye catching, and they serve as an early example of the artist’s forays into digital art.
The series is also notable for including people. While Hockney is a great lover of portraiture and has painted and sketched many of his friends and lovers over the years, he doesn’t tend to include people in his landscapes. In this way Hockney makes the spectacular landscape into a communal experience, foregoing the traditional perspective of the artist painting in the open air, alone with nature. While still sublime, the valley becomes something that can be enjoyed by everyone, in the same way that digital prints have made Hockney’s art more accessible to a wider audience. For example, Untitled No. 1. is one of only a handful of works from The Yosemite Suite, which contains references to human life. The abstracted figures in the foreground of the work are dwarfed by the huge rock face that looms in the background, emphasizing the enormity of the national park’s landscape.
The Yosemite Suite
Medium: iPad drawing in colors printed on wove paper
Size: 37×28 inches (94.1 x 71.3 cm)
Publisher: The Artist
Signed, dated and numbered in pencil with the artist’s blindstamp
The Yosemite Prints
Recent Auction Results
Phillips London: 13 September 2022
Estimated: GBP 50,000 – 70,000
Untitled No. 1, from The Yosemite Suite, 2010
iPad drawing in colors, printed on wove paper, with full margins.
Image: 81.5 x 61.2 cm (32 1/8 x 24 1/8 inches)
Sheet: 94.1 x 71.3 cm (37 x 28 1/8 inches)
Signed, dated and numbered 23/25 in pencil
Untitled No. 1 from the Yosemite Suite, 2010
iPad drawing in colors
Signed, dated and numbered 11/25 in pencil
Phillips London: 15 June 2022
Untitled No. 14 from the Yosemite Suite, 2010
iPad drawing in colors
Signed, dated and numbered 16/25 in pencil
Christie’s New-York: 8 March 2022
Untitled No. 12 from the Yosemite Suite, 2010
iPad drawing in colors
Signed, dated and numbered 9/25 in pencil
Sotheby’s London: 16 September 2020