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In February of 1986, Hockney began experimenting with a friend’s copy machine and within an hour he’d discovered it was, in fact, a new type of printing machine. The ‘home-made prints’ he produced using the machine disrupted the traditional processes of colour printmaking, traditionally a painstaking process that involves many layers and experts to match each new section of the print.
‘Over the years I’ve made a lot of prints working with several different master printshops,’ the artist explained. ‘It’s an exciting process, but I’ve always been bothered by the lack of spontaneity: how it takes hours and hours, working alongside several master craftsmen, to generate an image. How you’re continually having to interrupt the process of creation from one moment to the next for technical reasons. But with these copying machines, I can work by myself — indeed you virtually have to work by yourself; there’s nothing for anyone else to do — and I can work with great speed and responsiveness. In fact, this is the closest I’ve ever come in printing to what it’s like to paint: I can put something down, evaluate it, alter it, revise it, all in a matter of seconds.’
The process of printing with the copy machine is very similar to that of a traditional colour artist’s print. Each colour is drawn onto a separate sheet of paper. That colour is then printed onto each sheet of the edition. Once one colour has been completed, the printed sheets are loaded back into the machine and a sheet with another, separate colour is placed on the copy bed.
In this way, the print remains rooted in the tradition of layering ink, giving the surface depth and dimensions. Had all of the colours been printed at once from one sheet the effect would have been far less interesting, appearing ‘flat’, as you would expect from a copier, with the layers removed.
What’s really interesting, though, is the way in which Hockney utilised the copy machine. ‘My interest in the [copying] machine was philosophical really,’ he explains. ‘I realised it was a printing machine and a camera of a new kind.’
The flat bed of the copier narrows the space between the object and the lens, reading the object much more closely. Essentially, the copy machine reads the object and then prints the object in two dimensions and from paper to paper, retaining its original materiality.
Hockney has used technology to explore mark-making and picture-making in a variety of new ways, and his experiments with Xerox printing were just the start. ‘I’ve always been interested in printing as a medium, and also as a medium through which my work can be known — can reach a public,’ he explains. ‘So I’ve taken an interest in any technology to do with image-making: printing, cameras, reproduction itself.
‘Lots of artists aren’t interested and don’t necessarily have to be. A painter needn’t care about any of them; he can still do interesting paintings just with brushes and paints. But I am interested.’
In 1988, Hockney learned how to use a fax machine and began sending pictures to his friends. He even participated in the São Paolo Biennial via fax machine in 1989. He purchased a first-generation iPhone following its release by Apple in 2007, and in 2009 began experimenting in an app called Brushes. With this new technology he could create even more quickly and spontaneously. The release of the iPad in 2010 soon after allowed him a larger space.
‘I love new mediums,’ he states. ‘I think mediums can turn you on, they can excite you; they always let you do something in a different way. Even if you take the same subject, if you draw it in a different way, or if you are forced to simplify it — to make it bold because it is too finicky — I like that.’