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Gary Hume Photo

Gary Hume

British Painter

Born: May 9, 1962 - Tenterden, Kent, England
Movements and Styles:
Young British Artists
"A painting should be tough; it should have muscle, but I have to find some tenderness in it, too. There has to be that dynamic."
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Gary Hume Signature
"People constantly describe me as a formalist or even a minimalist, but I'm not really bothered with the rules of painting or the history of painting. My approach is that everything is mine. I take what I can use from wherever, and then I forget where I've taken it from. But there is no point me making anything that looks like anyone else's."
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Gary Hume Signature
"One drawing demands to become a painting, so I start to work on that, and then the painting might demand something else. Then the painting might say, 'I want a companion, and the companion should be like this,' so I have to find that, either by drawing it myself or locating the image."
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Gary Hume Signature
"I don't make political work. I don't make work that criticises the state. I make as human work as I can."
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Gary Hume Signature
"It's not part of my ambition to become fabulously rich. My plan was always to make my pictures, and hopefully people would buy them, and then I'd buy a studio, buy a house, help friends out, do bits and bobs - but I've no idea after that."
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Gary Hume Signature
"I want to paint something that's gorgeous, something that's perfect. So that it's full of sadness."
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Gary Hume Signature
"I'd like to give people leaden boots in galleries, so they'd be a bit slower in front of my paintings. And that's because I spend so much time looking at them. I can look at them a long, long time without getting bored. I disappear."
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Gary Hume Signature
"I like things that are just about to go. Everything's leaving. Death is never far away from me. When you make something, death can't help but be in it."
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Gary Hume Signature
"If I'm feeling desperate, I'll go out image-hunting. I'll go to news agents and stand at the rack flicking through magazines or go to second-hand bookshops. And then, bit by bit, like concrete poetry, I start to realise that I am drawn to particular things, and then I start wondering why that is."
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Gary Hume Signature
"Small paintings can be fantastic. But you can't often get a narrative out of a small painting. In any case, museums are huge places, and you want to take up some space."
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Gary Hume Signature
"I'm more and more fascinated in my own work. I work from 10 A.M. until about 9 P.M., but it's not an obsession, it's a pleasure. There's never enough time."
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Gary Hume Signature
"Sometimes I can see the whole painting from the outset in my mind's eye. But more often than not, that idea doesn't last the duration of the painting. Sometimes it comes out easy, just as I had envisaged. But that is reasonably rare."
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Gary Hume Signature
"The door paintings ... they aren't really a door, they are a couple meeting in a hospital corridor, knowing that one of them is going to die."
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"Line and colour are crucial."
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"Sometimes if I run out of colour I will go into a litter bin and grab the litter and then go and make all those colours."
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Gary Hume Signature
"I wanted to make a painting love light - I don't paint light, I don't do light effects, but I want it."
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Gary Hume Signature
"But ... in the end it's what the painting looks like ... I'm a slave to it."
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Gary Hume Signature
"It's the great pleasure and pain of life that you really are stuck as yourself and however much you wish you were capable of making someone else's work, you can't. So you don't."
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Summary of Gary Hume

Gary Hume is a British artist whose membership of the notorious Young British Artists (YBA) movement in the 1990s first brought his paintings to public attention. But unlike several of his YBA contemporaries, Hume avoided much of the extreme partying and tabloid notoriety that characterized the movement throughout the decade by preferring to focus on the development of his abstract, minimal, and often wryly narrative visual artworks. Using broad planes of color and household gloss paint to suggest familiar objects (such as hospital doors), his artwork came to be championed by international art dealers like Charles Saatchi as an innovative contemporary minimalism.

Hume later moved away from this established and commercially successful abstract formula in order to explore new modes of representation, foregrounding more recognizable objects and imagery within his paintings and branching out into sculpture and photography. No matter what the medium though, Hume's work uses abstraction to ask subtle questions about the world around his viewers, the cultures invisible to those embedded within them, and the nature of visual representation.


  • Hume's work is inherently postmodern in its influence by, and combination of aspects of, several different art-historical precedents. It combines ideas of audience engagement and relation with the art object drawn from early 20th century Minimalism, images of recognisable and familiar objects that reflect Pop Art, and formal aesthetic experimentation and visual subversion with roots in the Op-Art and Neo-Geo artistic movements.
  • The choice of materials in Hume's work is both technical and conceptual. Through industrial and household gloss paint, the materials most often associated with his practice, he is able to reproduce a high depth of color field and shine, allowing the viewer to see themselves literally reflected within his abstract paintings. But these paints also suggest industrial activity and institutional conformity, as well as accessibility and familiarity. They therefore embody conceptually ideas that Hume represents abstractly, such as the ubiquity of institutional design (as in his images of hospital doors).
  • Hume produces art in easily discernible series of work, creating a number of pieces that adhere to a particular set of rules or formal principles before abandoning those in favour of his next project series. This process of focused experimentation and development has remained characteristic of his activity since his time as a student at Goldsmiths University in the 1990s.
  • Related to this process is Hume's remarkably driven and un-self-conscious character, producing artworks with little regard for fashion or commercial success. This is most apparent in his early commitment to abstract painting, but also to his later move away from it. Hume has throughout his career shifted gears, embarking on new projects outside of the strict limits he had previously placed on himself and often against the advice of gallerists or peers.

Biography of Gary Hume

Gary Hume Photo

Gary Hume was born in 1962 in Tenterden, a leafy middle-class town near Ashford in the English county of Kent. He says that he often felt attuned to the natural rhythms of the countryside around him, recalling, "I love to see a wood full of bluebells. Growing up in the Kent countryside, I have special memories of this brief annual spectacle." He was the second youngest in a family of five siblings, raised by his mother alone, after his father left when Hume was 18 months old. His mother worked as a National Health Service (NHS) surgery manager but also had a love for art and poetry. As Hume recalls, "My mum always liked poetry, and she had pictures on the wall, so there was this visual stuff around."

Important Art by Gary Hume

Progression of Art

Girl Boy, Boy Girl

In this work two upright painted panels sit side by side. One is red, the other an off-white shade of magnolia. Each is painted with a high gloss finish, reflecting the room around them and the viewers looking at the work, and are decorated with geometric shapes and two dark circles resembling round windows into another space, or a pair of eyes looking back at the viewer.

These paintings were made early in Hume's career, as part of his 'door series'. The first set he painted were based on the geometric patterns and shapes of the double-hinged swing doors at St Bartholemew's Hospital in East London, with porthole windows and kick or push plates below them. As he developed the series the designs of the doors changed, but they were always intended to resemble industrial doors, painted with the same factory produced gloss paint in synthetic, clinical colors. The original idea for the door paintings came from an NHS poster Hume saw in a Bupa advertisement in the newspaper. He said, "There were these depressed people in a depressed NHS hospital, and in the background was this modernist door - clear, perfectly designed, functional, democratic. I saw it and thought ... 'there it is - I can paint that. It's perfect.'"

As a young artist Hume was influenced by the geometric language of Minimalism, and even more so by Color Field Painting, but he was searching for a way to bring conceptual meaning back to this abstraction. His paintings of hospital doors were the first of their kind to blend modernist simplicity with narrative content, inviting viewers to consider where the doors might lead, or what might be happening behind them. He chose hospital doors due to their class-less democracy, representing the place where many of us will enter, leave, and are otherwise connected to the world we live in.

Enamel paint on board - Saatchi Gallery

Tony Blackburn

Tony Blackburn

Here a dark, three leafed clover is offset in dramatic contrast against a yellow and lilac backdrop. A black halo is carefully placed behind the leaf to resemble smooth hair or a helmet, suggesting the clover might represent a featureless face.

According to Hume this minimal painting depicts the well-known British radio DJ Tony Blackburn, whose distinctive black hairstyle from his 1960s heyday is captured here. The painting was made during a turning point in Hume's career, when he abandoned his signature geometric door paintings and was searching for a new style. One of the first new subjects he painted was a three leafed clover. He said, "That was my beginning really ... (I thought) I'll rename the three-leaf clover as a lucky talisman."

The motif was later translated into figurative imagery, as seen here, in a distinctive new abstract style. Hume has since made a number of uncanny and enigmatic portraits of figures from public life like this one, including Kate Moss, Michael Jackson and Angela Merkel. Like Andy Warhol, his Pop art predecessor, Hume has mingled in celebrity circles and is particularly interested in capturing the fragile essence of the person behind the public charade. Whitechapel Gallery director Iwona Blazwick describes how the barest minimum of information triggers recognition in his portraits, "these images have transcended the person, they have become universal, they are mass produced, in a way they are no longer quite human... but they are instantly and globally recognisable."

Gloss and matt paint on panel - Saatchi Gallery


Love Loves Unlovable

Two black, silhouetted figures face one another in separate panels, each surrounded by acid-bright floral patterns. The panels are mirror images, re-creating the strange symmetry of a Rorschach test. It is as if one figure is gazing across into his reflection, but it is unclear which panel reveals the real person and which is the mirage. The combination of black silhouette and flattened floral pattern recalls Asian prints and decorative paintings, as well as Henri Matisse's decorative collages. The diptych format here also resembles Hume's earlier door paintings.

This painting was one of the first Hume made after abandoning his well-known door paintings and was beginning to explore a range of imagery with greater narrative content. In 1991 the artist encountered the Marble Athletes in Mussolini's Olympic Stadium in Rome, which he later integrated into a series of new paintings. Hume said, "One half of the painting mirrors the other, as though this Narcissus (is) locked in contemplation of his own beauty."

The artist made this painting during a significant period of self-evaluation, when he was reconsidering the kind of artist he wanted to be. The figurative imagery in this work acts like a self-portrait, which he made in order to try and accept a new version of himself. Hume said, "Loving yourself ... is to love the most undesirable person around, because you know your fears and doubts more than anyone else's. I saw (this) as a passivist painting, loving the unlovable other." Echoing his earlier work, the high gloss surface of the painting reflects the person viewing the painting, inviting them to be a part of the work, and to consider their own reflection looking back at them.

Hume said, "The surface is all you get of me." With such high-shine surfaces he draws attention to his paintings as flat objects rather than illusionistic spaces, where the light is reflected on the surface rather than emanating from within, revealing an ongoing interest in Minimalist art, which has continued to influence Post-minimalist painters working today including Ian Davenport and Callum Innes.

Oil on panel - Saatchi Gallery


Water Painting

A series of white, linear outlines of naked women are set against a green backdrop. The lines weave in and out of one another to create a complex and intricate web suggesting movement. The women are drawn in a range of sizes and scales, adding to the sense of energy within the canvas and making it difficult to distinguish one from another.

This painting is one of a series of Water Paintings made in 1999, each of which features outlines of women against a monochrome background that seem to flow across the surface of the paintings like water. Hume copied photographs of his wife Georgie Hopton and his friend Zoe to produce the series, blending elements of the two women together to create an idealized series of forms. He described the painting as an embodiment of how he looks at and experiences women, flowing with sexual possibilities, saying it is, "as if we have entered a zone of desire and the experience of a body".

When producing all his paintings Hume traces images from photographs onto acetate before projecting the outlines onto a panel and filling in the shapes between them with paint. With this series he chose to leave the lines on the panel rather than fill them in, stating, "I became excited by the line and thought now [that] I see it I'd better use it."

Although the subject matter of idealized female forms is centuries old, Hume has updated the genre by foregrounding a sense of energy and movement, a woman who is active and assertive rather than passive and submissive. This vitality can also be seen in the work of many contemporary painters including Cecily Brown and Jenny Saville. Hume has long been an admirer of Brice Marden's work and the influence of his later drawings and paintings can also be seen here, with the same fluid, linear patterns sweeping past our eyes.

Tate collection


American Tan I

This work consists of two disembodied athletic limbs that bend open into the space around them as if caught mid-action. They are precariously balanced on a small pedestal, with a visible crack down the centre where they have been joined together.

Hume is best known for his high gloss, semi-abstract paintings, but he has also made a smaller number of sculptures, including this work. He said, "I've always tried to make sculptures but I'm not as relaxed with it as I am with painting ... I have an ongoing battle with it." This sculpture was made after the artist had bought a second home in Upstate New York, where he continues to spend part of the year living and working. There he was particularly attracted to the image of American cheerleaders, both their young, tanned, athletic bodies, but also with their status as powerful symbols of American patriotism and pride. He has since made a series of sculptures and paintings which resemble the movement, energy and sexuality of cheerleaders, including this work. It is part of a group of playful sculptures made from the arms of shop mannequins, joined together to look like legs. He said, "Two arms that look like legs have a proportion that becomes elegant, there is a nice swell."

Much like his paintings, this sculpture concisely brings together a range of references with a careful sleight of hand. The synthetic sheen of the mannequin's skin resembles the glossy surface of his paintings, drawing attention to the superficiality of cheerleaders, while the crack down the centre of the legs creates an uncomfortable sexual tension. This sense of unease is further exemplified by the lack of body, hands or feet, resembling dismembered torsos by Hans Bellmer and Louise Bourgeois, but Hume's sculpture is made contemporary through current cultural references and modern, manufactured materials. He creates a conflict here between desire, sex and repulsion, recurring themes which exist within many of his artworks.


Red Barn Door

Red Barn Door is a red monochrome painting on two flanking panels of aluminium. As the title suggests it depicts the color, shape and design of an American red barn door, with a series of geometric patterns that resemble wooden planks. The 'z' shape linear design is raised slightly from the surface while vertical strips are painted with a thin line of gold paint.

Hume made this painting at his studio in upstate New York, where he tends to live for around a third of the year with his wife Georgie Hopton. The image reflects his ongoing fascination with American culture and society, which art historian David Anfam has referred to as a "transatlantic romance". The painting can be compared with Hume's door paintings of the early 1990s which reproduced institutional doors from hospitals, a style which he abandoned in 1992. He said, "I wanted to own them again and to see what would happen if I painted another one ... It gave me permission to use any mark that I've ever used. There doesn't have to be a closure of my ideas or my methods."

When painted onto a large panel and hung on the wall, Hume's Red Barn Door is reminiscent in appearance to older, modernist abstract painting, particularly those of Color Field painters like Ad Reinhart and Mark Rothko. While Hume echoes their vocabulary he is also keen to bring his viewer back to the real world, reminding them that what is depicted is real, its likeness painted with the high gloss paint of industry and manufacture. He thereby straddles a middle ground between abstraction and figuration, saying, "I like abstract formalism, but I also like picture making." Unlike his earlier door paintings which came from cold, clinical institutions, Red Barn Door is warm and inviting, suggesting rural domesticity.

Tate collection



Bloom is a rich, sumptuous and dark image with delicate linear areas of relief spread across the black surface to describe petals and a cropped leaf motif. The shiny surface creates a synthetic, impenetrable veneer which both entices the viewer to become lost in its glossy appearance but also invites the contemplation of their own image in its reflection back.

Hume has painted floral motifs like this one throughout his career, sometimes merged with figurative elements and at other times veering closer to pure abstraction. This recent painting exemplifies his dual interest in desire and repulsion; the intricate floral pattern has a decorative, oriental quality but the shiny black surface and areas of relief create a gothic, foreboding unease. As with many of his floral paintings the motif is closely cropped, making it hard to decipher any exact information. Hume said with many of his works, "the painting doesn't really fit on the canvas."

Over the years he has developed a unique technical process for creating ridges in paintings, explaining that "the ridges are formed by applying masking tape and draft excluder and building up the edge with several coats of primer. The tape and excluder are then cut away. The gloss colour is applied in one or two layers."

There is an ongoing reference to the natural world in Hume's practice, but his choice of synthetic colors and industrial gloss paint serve as reminders that his images are far removed from studies of nature. Instead they take on a synthetic quality that suggests the increasing artificiality of the modern world, where we are surrounded by lurid advertisements, hard plastics and shiny metals.

Enamel on Aluminium - Matthew Marks Gallery

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Gary Hume
Influenced by Artist
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Close Influences

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Content compiled and written by Rosie Lesso

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Lewis Church

"Gary Hume Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rosie Lesso
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Lewis Church
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First published on 15 Nov 2018. Updated and modified regularly
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