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Happily hunched over his iPad, Britain's most celebrated living artist David Hockney is pioneering in the art world again, turning his index finger into a paintbrush that he uses to swipe across a touch screen to create vibrant landscapes, colorful forests and richly layered scenes.
"It's a very new medium,'' said Hockney. So new, in fact, he wasn't sure what he was creating until he began printing his digital images a few years ago. "I was pretty amazed by them actually,'' he said, laughing. "I'm still amazed.''
A new exhibit of Hockney's work, including about 150 iPad images, opened Saturday in the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, just a short trip for Silicon Valley techies who created both the hardware and software for this 21st-century reinvention of finger-painting.
The show is billed as the museum's largest ever, filling two floors of the de Young with a survey of works from 1999 to present, mostly landscapes and portraits in an array of mediums: watercolor, charcoal and even video. But on a recent preview day, it was the iPad pieces, especially the 12-foot (3.6-meter) high majestic views of Yosemite National Park that drew gasps.
Yosemite's landscape has already been captured by famed photographer Ansel Adams and prominent painters such as Thomas Hill and Albert Bierstadt. Hockney's iPad images of Yosemite's rocks, rivers and trees are both comfortingly familiar and entirely new.
In one wide open vista, scrubby, bright green pines sparkle in sunlight, backed by Bridalveil Fall tumbling lightly down a cliff side; the distinct granite crest of Half Dome looms in the background. In another, a heavy mist obscures stands of giant sequoias.
"He has such command of space, atmosphere and light,'' said Fine Arts Museums director Colin Bailey.
Other iPad images are overlaid, so viewers can see them as they were drawn, an animated beginning-to-end chronological loop. He tackles faces and flowers, and everyday objects: a human foot, scissors, an electric plug.
Some of the iPad drawings are displayed on digital screens, others, like the Yosemite works, were printed on six large panels. Hockey's technical assistants used large inkjet prints to reproduce the images he created on his IPad.
Exhibiting iPad images by a prominent artist in a significant museum gives the medium a boost, said art historians, helping digital artwork gain legitimacy in the notoriously snobby art world where computer tablet art shows are rare and prices typically lower than comparable watercolors or oils.
"I'm grateful he's