Having worked primarily with etching and lithography, David Hockney turned to photocopying in the late ‘80s in order to work quickly, spontaneously, and alone. Photocopiers are both cameras and automatic printing presses, thus they sparked Hockney’s eternal fascination with the ways of seeing cultivated by different art media.
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Revolutionising printing through using an office photocopier here, Hockney’s Homemade Prints show his pushing artistic evolution and experimentation.
Hockney had been working primarily with etching and lithography when he turned to photocopying as a way of working quickly, spontaneously and alone. While he enjoyed the experience of collaborating with master printers such as Kenneth Tyler of Gemini to create series such as Friends, ultimately he preferred the agency that etching gave him by allowing him to draw directly onto a plate in much the same way as he would a sketchbook. However colour was still complicated with etching and required more time and effort. The photocopier offered an entirely new solution for an artist obsessed with technology and trying new things in order to advance his craft. Speaking in 1980 the artist stated, “I love new mediums … I think mediums can turn you on, they can excite you: they always let you do something in a different way”.
He began experimenting with photocopying when he bought three machines of the kind typically used in an office for his studio. Writing about this revolution in Hockney’s way of working for Print Quarterly in 1988, critic Craig Hartley said, “He realised that the machines were cameras which confined themselves to photographing flat surfaces. Unlike normal cameras they never tried to depict space.” This flattening of space was something Hockney had been concerned with ever since his first forays into photography and painting at art school and which continue to be important to him to this day. As well as being a camera, a photocopier is also an automatic printing press, a realisation which caused Hockney to begin experimenting. He soon found they were “fascinating printing machines, indeed they were a totally new kind of printing that offered the artist new areas and possibilities.” Here Hockney found the layers that were required by lithography had been removed, there was no need for a stone or a plate, he could draw or paint directly onto a sheet of paper and copy it, feeding the resulting sheet through again – and the ink cartridge swapped – to add the layers of colour. “The finished print”, Hartley writes, “is not simply a photocopy of something else, it can exist only in that form through the successive layers of printing.” As well as drawing onto the sheets Hockney photocopied a number of objects in order to create an impression of mixed media.
The method was a success and Hockney created a series of over 40 prints that are collected under the title Home Made Prints. Speaking of his newfound technique the artist said, “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, reexamine it, all in a matter of seconds.”