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
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
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.
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.
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