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“I’ve never been against new things because they are new. I try them out and see whether they are good tools for me”- David Hockney

Sometimes it seems like the use of new technologies by artists in the making of their artworks is something that is exclusive to the modern era, but according to the artist David Hockney, exploring new tools for making things is something artists have always done and probably always will do. In this assignment I am going to talk about three artists from the 20th century who have taken advantage of the most up to date technologies to produce their art.

This assignment focuses on three artists; Andy Warhol, David Hockney and Amy Sillman. These three artists have used technology in various ways; to create a different aesthetic, to speed up the artistic process or to reveal how it works. On the other hand, technology has also been used because of what it represents to send a message or create new meaning in the artwork. Moreover, in some of these artists’ work, technology can be seen to change the whole nature of traditional painting and drawing, by, on the one hand, allowing us to examine the process of making and by creating a performance that can engage with other art forms and with language.

Andy Warhol was influenced by the rise in popular culture in the 50s and 60s and his artistic and technological innovation was to use a commercial printing technique (screen printing) normally reserved for printing cheap commercial products like t-shirts and posters, to transfer photographs onto canvas. His objective in doing this was to convert low-brow popular culture into high-brow fine art. In a purely formal sense this technology allows him to combine blocks of colour with photography and drawing to make something that is aesthetically exciting and vibrant but, moreover, his choice of technology is also symbolic and gives another level of meaning to his artwork.

In the weeks after the death of Marilyn Monroe in 1962 Warhol created a diptych using her image. In the diptych Warhol combines two of his most consistent themes; life and death and the cult of celebrity. The diptych is made up of 50 images of Marilyn Monroe’s face taken from the film Niagara. On one half of the diptych the images are in colour and the other half black and white. In the black and white half the images become distorted and start to fade, this has been thought to represent the star’s mortality. The power of the image is strengthened by its repetition, and this repetition as well as the fading are reminiscent of a film reel or a wall in the street plastered with posters, or even the flickering image of a TV screen. This is an image that is all about the media. It brings popular culture and the media into a fine art context and celebrates the age of mass production and mass culture. 

Figure 1. Andy Warhol, Marilyn Diptych, 1962, acrylic (Tate Liverpool)

David Hockney started making prints quite early on his artistic career and it seems that his interest in technology for making art stems from this experience. He was the first artist to make photo collages through his ongoing explorations of perspective. He used a fax machine, a photocopier and computers to make prints. He currently uses an iPad to make drawings and paintings. I would like to talk about one of his iPad paintings. This is not the first time he has made drawings using a computer, as early as 1987 and 1991 he made images using fairly limited computer programs but he found that the technology wasn’t quite ready back then. Finally the iPad is here, which means he can use his hands to draw on to the computer and select colours, transparency and brush sizes very quickly indeed.

Hockney used his iPad to record the arrival of spring in East Yorkshire. The use of this new technology meant that he was able to record the rapid onset of the season in the open air. If we look at his print called “2 January” we can see an image of a farm track and trees to either side. There is nothing remarkable about the subject matter of this image but somehow it is both vibrant and exciting to look at. There is something very painterly about it; the subtle layering of colour and marks, the rushed, expressive mark-making, the building up of the image to form the whole. Hockney has been able to paint and draw using his hands to create this rendering of a scene from nature. There’s something almost abstract about this picture, he has used information from real life to create his own loose and brightly coloured interpretation.

Figure 2. David Hockney, 2 January, 2011, iPad.

What I find interesting about Hockney’s use of technology is that he is always the master of his tools he is never overly influenced by the new technology; he always manages to bend them to his will making his art just as he always has but with a different set of tools. Compared to Warhol Hockney’s choice of technology is based solely on the formal results he can achieve with it rather than alluding to anything more conceptual or critical.

“Painting has to have an excuse! A kind of validating intellectual structure to allow for something.”- Amy Sillman.

Amy Sillman is a contemporary advocator of abstract expressionism and a defender of painting. She believes that “Painting is a physical thinking process to continue an interior dialogue…” In 2011 she used an iPhone application called brushes to make a 7 minute animation called “Pinky’s rule” which was made in collaboration with the poet Charles Bernstein, with the text by Bernstein and the drawing by Sillman. The combination of the words, read by Sillman, and her drawings creates a moving, shifting painting that has a life of its own and is therefore converted into a performance piece. It reacts to words but at the same time it seems like the words are describing the images. It’s a different way to experience painting, alternately figurative and abstract. The process is laid bare and can be examined. She shows her movement from figurative to abstraction as a kind of dance and shows the significance of colour as relating to mood and environment. She utilizes the new tool on both a formal and conceptual level as an extension of her painting to project it into new realms of thought and perception. The problems caused by the connotations of traditional canvas painting can be cast off through the use of this new format. She asks us to consider painting as a formal object, as something that communicates on an emotional and visual level. Painting is something that can be sensed; it is sensual rather than objective and premeditated. Unlike Hockney, who takes advantage of the Brushes application to observe his own painterly process, she goes beyond to use the process as a performance and means of communication.

According to David Hockney the interaction of new media and technology has always aided artists, but in this assignment I have discovered how advances in technology from the last century and up to the present day have made a difference. For example, new media has allowed artists to create different aesthetics, speed up working methods, and explore their own creative processes. It has helped them to make a critique of society and modern mass consumption. It has allowed them to escape the connotations of traditional painting and combine it with performance and words. 

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