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Indepth Arts News:

"Gary Hume: The Bird Had a Yellow Beak"
2004-01-26 until 2004-03-21
Kunsthaus Bregenz
Bregenz, , AT

Following solo exhibitions of the work of Günther Förg and Jeff Koons, the Kunsthaus Bregenz now continues its discourse on major positions in contemporary painting with Gary Hume’s oeuvre. With nearly 60 works from the late eighties till the present, the exhibition at the Kunsthaus Bregenz is one of the largest one-man shows by the artist and the first comprehensive exhibition in the German-speaking world to date. 25 large-format paintings, more than 30 drawings, and one sculpture provide a sweeping look at the work of this important representative of the Young British Art scene.

In the eighties, Gary Hume (born in 1962 in Kent, England) became a star of the Young British Art movement virtually overnight with his "Doors" series. The series comprises some 50 works to date. The Kunsthaus Bregenz shows a representative selection, including "Door," 1988, one of the earliest works in the series, "Dream," 1991, "Girl Boy, Boy Girl," 1991, and "All He Knows," 2000. Format and formal structure of these largely several-part paintings assembled in a row and done on MDF or canvas are based on real doors to be found in public institutions, such as hospitals, schools, etc. With these rows of door images and their sparse depiction, Gary Hume makes reference to the heroes of the color-field, hard-edge, and shaped-canvas movements of the sixties and seventies in America.

As early as 1949, Ellsworth Kelly in one of his key works, "Window, Museum of Modern Art, Paris," had made the proportions and dimensions of a window of the said Paris museum the point of departure of his anti-compositional work on two combined canvases. In addition to his well known door paintings, Gary Hume has also done a whole series of window paintings. Hume’s toying with art historical references and his sense of humor also become evident, for example, in the fact that the round window openings and rectangular door handles of the door panels call to mind the abstract Mickey Mouse of the famous steel sculpture "Geometric Mouse, Scale A," 1969, by Claes Oldenburg. In "Welcome," 2002, the artist turns the door painting into a Smiley by adding a semicircular line to the two round windows. Hume gives the abstract elements and forms of his paintings – square, rectangle, and circle – double meanings: the paintings can be windows or doors or they can be faces.

An entire floor at the Kunsthaus has been devoted to Gary Hume’s drawing, which is still less known than his painting. Among his finest works are his plant and flower drawings. One might trace back their elegance, delicate lines, and simple means to the arabesques of a Henri Matisse or to Ellsworth Kelly’s famous plant drawings.

Gary Hume has developed a unique painting technique for rendering his ideas onto surfaces. He uses common commercial household paints in premixed hues, which he pours onto his horizontal work surfaces. To achieve a smooth, even result, he uses aluminum panels. Generally speaking, one has to see Gary Hume’s paintings in the original in order to experience the full effect. The luster and reflective quality of the gloss paint, the often very close hues, the embedded relief drawings discernible only in sidelight do not lend themselves readily to reproduction through photographic and printing means – a strategy to "Save Painting."

When asked about his preferred painting motifs, Gary Hume once answered that he painted "flora, fauna, and portrait." Hume trawls the collective hackneyed pool of everyday images – whether they be icons of the pop and fashion world, e.g. "Michael," 2001 (Michael Jackson), and "Kate," 1996 (Kate Moss), or taken from our art historical heritage, e.g. in "After Vermeer," 1995, or from the fairytale world of childhood, e.g. "Bird on a Branch," 1998, and "Bear," 1994 – and resuscitates these into new, valid, modern-day versions of those images. He finds and invents new images of broken, threatened beauty, with lines and colored fields that clash with but at the same time enhance each other and with idiosyncratic color blends and combinations full of harmony and tension.

Gary Hume
Jealousy and Passion, 1993
Gloss paint, pencil and cardboard on wood panel
201 x 133 cm
Private Collection
Courtesy Jay Jopling/White Cube (London)
Photo: Stephen White

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