Associated with the Young British Artists (YBAs), Jerwood Prize-winning painter and sculptor Gary Hume is known for his glossy enamel paintings of everyday objects. The artist has represented Britain at the 48th Venice Biennale and the 1996 São Paulo Biennial.Read More
Born in Kent, Hume attended Goldsmiths in London together with a group of artists who would become known at the Young British Artists. Graduating in 1988, Hume became closely associated with the YBAs, such as Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas, and Damien Hirst, throughout the 1990s.
Initially featuring in the influential YBA exhibition Freeze in 1988, he later exhibited alongside YBA artists at the Venice Biennale in 1995. That same year, he also took part in the exhibition Brilliant!, which showcased the work of the YBAs to an American audience.
Gary Hume's paintings and sculptures are colourful, visually simplified explorations of objects and aspects of everyday life, rendered in planes of colour, bold outlines, and silhouettes. His enamel paintings on paper and aluminium present an eye-catching glossy reflective sheen.
Hume's seminal artworks of the late 1980s and early 90s are his 'Door' paintings. The first of these large-scale abstract works were modelled on measurements taken from double swing doors in St Bartholomew's Hospital, London.
Painted with glossy pre-mixed household enamel paint on aluminium and MDF, the paintings mimic the panels, windows, and kickplates of these doors in a simplistic, observational manner. Presenting a to-scale architectural reference that reflects the bodily proportions of the viewer, the works confound the distinction between art and object, as well as between figurative representation and abstraction.
Painted at times in fleshy tones and resembling facial features, the doors also take on an anthropomorphic quality in several instances, particularly in later iterations.
In the 1990s, Hume's subjects expanded beyond the singular architectural motif which launched his career into a more varied range of abstracted figurative works. These paintings often drew from found images, depicting a plethora of people, plants, and animals rendered in shiny silhouettes on monochrome backgrounds or contrasting blocks of colour.
These simplified Pop-like works are made with vivid colours and cartoonish lines, representing celebrity figures like Michael Jackson and Kate Moss, as well as fellow artists. Each figure is reduced to an abstracted depiction composed of just two or three colours. From these, Hume derived his 1998 print series 'Portraits'.
In his 1999 'Water Paintings' series, the artist presents silhouettes of women drawn in outlines against monochrome backgrounds. Painted with fluid rippling lines, the watery quality of the picture surfaces is enhanced by the characteristic sheen of enamel paint that permeates Hume's work.
Hume often traces his images from photographs, either taken by himself or sourced from printed media, projecting the outline onto his painting surface. In the case of the 'Water Paintings', Hume took images of his wife, artist Georgie Hopton, and his friend Zoe Manzi. This same silhouette approach can be seen in later works, like the screen print Blue Nun (2016).
In the 2007 series 'American Tan', the artist pursues an examination of American culture and policy and its influence on the world through abstracted representations of cheerleaders. Hume, who began living and working between London and a rural property in upstate New York in the early 2000s, visually dissects this icon of American kitsch.
Hume's paintings are intended as a reflection of the time through passive observation of the present. More recent series grapple with personal and political tragedies, as well as the exhausting news cycles of conflict in the Middle East and the refugee crisis.
In his 'Destroyed School Paintings' series (2018—2019), the artist responds to news-media imagery of destroyed schools in war-torn countries by focusing on the hope within the image. His works reference the remaining children's drawings seen on walls and blackboards in the destroyed schools, rejecting the sensational for familiar imagery that conveys a sense of youth and innocence.
Parallel to his paintings on aluminium and paper, Hume has developed a varied sculptural practice. This began with his 'Snowman' sculptures, which first appeared in 1997 and continue to evolve. A simple premise, Hume's Snowman figure is comprised of two bronze spheres, typically bearing a glossy sheen, that make the familiar form of a snowman. Several versions can be found across indoor and outdoor spaces, including Snowman, Two Balls Twinkle White (2014) at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
Another of Hume's ongoing sculptural motifs is his 'Wonky Wheels', first conceived in 2013. Imperfectly shaped thin metal wheels painted in vibrant colours allude to the imperfect wheel of life and the instability of personal and historical narratives.
Hume has produced several works for public display in the U.S.A. and London. In 2002, Hume's Back of a Snowman was temporarily installed in front of The Ritz-Carlton in Battery Park City, New York for the Art on the Plaza programme. Hume's monumental 2008 sculpture Liberty Grip, made from painted bronze and old railway sleepers, resides on a riverside path by the O2 in south-east London as part of the London sculpture trail the Line.
Nominated for the prestigious Turner Prize in 1996, Hume went on to win the Jerwood Painting Prize the following year. Hume has also twice featured in the Venice Biennale, including in 1999 when he represented his country at the British Pavilion. Hume was elected to the Royal Academy of Arts in 2001.
Gary Hume has been the subject of both solo exhibitions and group exhibitions internationally.
Solo exhibitions include Gary Hume — Destroyed School Paintings, Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Deurle, Belgium (2020); Gary Hume RA: Prints Pictures, Royal Academy of Arts, London (2017); Front of Snowman, Aspen Art Museum, Colorado (2016); Gary Hume, Tate Britain, London (2013); Flashback, Leeds Art Gallery (2012); Angels, Flowers and Icons, Hastings Museum and Art Gallery (2007); Gary Hume, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (2003); Gary Hume, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (1999); Gary Hume, Institute of Contemporary Art, London (1995).
Group exhibitions include English Sculptors in New England, Hall Art Foundation, Reading (2018); Occasional Geometries: Rana Begum Curates the Arts, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield (2017); British British Polish Polish, Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art, Poland (2013); Eye on Europe, Museum of Modern Art, New York (2006); Remix: Contemporary Art and Pop, Tate Liverpool (2002); Real / Life: New British Art, Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts, Utsunomiya (1998); Sensation, The Royal Academy of Arts, London (1997); Wild Walls, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1995); New Voices, Musée National d'Histoire d'Art, Luxembourg (1993); The British Art Show 1990, Hayward Gallery, London (1990); Freeze. Part II, Surrey Docks, London (1988).
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2022