December 20, 2013

Gary Hume's Buoyant Paintings (and what about the artist's intention?)

Blue Skies, 2013; enamel on aluminum, 44 7/8 x 60 in. 

I feel different kinds of pleasure seeing shows that I love; my feeling can be meditative, there can be an intellectual excitement, a joy in color and shape or in carefully attentive work; the work's presence can be big and bold or small and modest; there are so many things to love. When I walked into Gary Hume's show at Matthew Marks, "The Wonky Wheel", and was confronted by a huge, wackily painted door, I did not know what to expect as I'd never seen Hume's work before. Well, I loved the show; it made me feel light and happy. The bright colors, often in surprising juxtapositions, and the irregularly organic shapes seemed full of joy.

Stripes, 2013; enamel on aluminum, 45 1/8 x 60 in.

In this painting, odd shapes are wandering across the glossy surface, pinks and purples playing with green, bright and dark.

Stripes, detail

The high gloss of enamel paint might be very off putting, but in this case it reads as warm and rich to me. The gallery assistant told me that Hume uses hardware store paint, making stencils that he fills with paint which leads to shapes with raised edges, each shape strongly delineated by its border and catching the light festively.

The Wonky Wheel (Yellow), 2013; enamel on aluminum, diameter 83 7/8 x 2 3/8 in. 

There were two sculptures in the show, both Wonky Wheels. As I looked at this far from perfect spoked wheel it seemed a kind of wheel of life, a wobbly turning of time. Imagine my surprise when I read the press release for the show, at the link above, and discovered that the
motif is based on a Navy SEAL's telescopic gun sight, re-creating a sharpshooter's perspective from the artist's own point of view. 
Well, I am stumped; there's nothing in this piece that speaks of violence or war or tragedy, not to me. So what do I do about my responses? are they way off base, or is this an instance of the artist not knowing what he hath wrought?  Is he trying to undermine the origin of the image by the jolly presence of the sculpture? Is this something like 1960s Flower Power, sticking colorful blooms in gun barrels? I realize that artists, including myself, cannot control how people see our work; galleries try to do so with press releases and artist's statements, but is this all in vain? I usually like when a viewer sees something in a work of mine that I had not at all intended.

The Mound, 2013; enamel on aluminum, 60 x 72 in.

There is more:
Drawing inspiration from a commemorative publication celebrating the assassination of Osama bin Laden, Hume's new compositions isolate and fragment the photographic source imagery to near total abstraction. 
Yes, I would say so...almost total abstraction, and nothing here to indicate such a source. In The Mound, I see perfectly balanced odd shapes painted in colors that startle, soft as they are. (a note on color: my photos here are different in color from the gallery website images; it's hard to know which are more accurate.)

Fetish, 2013; enamel on aluminum, 78 3/8 x 55 7/8 in.

This painting was one that I might imagine to be about night and stealth, but brightened by the bits of green and red at bottom. The shape floating at the left looks like a telephone, the only vaguely representation image in the show, except for another, Sniper Circus (which I didn't photograph), whose image source as a gun is more evident. I like the moodiness of this work, but even with its dark palette, it is lush because of the shapes and glossy paint, a tropical night.

Tribute, 2013; enamel on aluminum, 44 1/8 x 56 1/4 in.

Tribute seems to be one of Hume's flower paintings, about which he writes
nature will always return after history's wonky wheel has trampled it.
Hume's view is, to some, overly optimistic, which might be a key to his body of work. In this painting, I like the closely hued yellows, walloped with purple.

Tribute detail

The elegantly swirling lines are complex and fluid, like multi-petaled roses or peonies, yet frozen in shallow ridges. The changing light as you move in front of the piece gives it a life it would not have with a non-reflective surface.

Bones, 2013; enamel on aluminum, 60 1/8 x 45 in.

I find Hume's odd shapes quite marvelous, here with more simple shapes floating above the smaller, more angular ones. They all hover within a field of pink, a cushiony color, maybe flesh and bone? If the source image was dreadful, the artist has transformed it into something light and gay, at least to my eyes.

The Red Meeting the Blue, 2013; enamel on aluminum, 54 x 71 5/8 in.

Red blue green are Ellsworth Kelly colors, but how differently Hume uses them. In a large field of red a shape rests at bottom, white partial circles adding a visual rhythm, repeating the bite taken out of the blue. The green is angular, jagged, yet for me the whole image is jocular rather than tragic. In all his paintings the bright colors, the rounded forms, the reflective surfaces, fill me with an aesthetic matter the source of the images.


  1. What a seductive and smart review. You make me want to see this show. I think it is so hard to write about work like Hume's but you have done a masterful job here. Thanks so much for the heads up.

    1. Thank you, Deborah; I was glad that a friend told me about this show. (I think of my writing on art more as personal essays than reviews.)

  2. Fun to see this again through your excellent writing, Altoon - thanks.

  3. Wow! These are wonderful paintings, especially after finding out the sniper references. My favorites are Fetish, Wonky Wheel and The Red Meeting The Blue. Violence in league with the carnivalesque and playful.

    1. I'm happy that you enjoyed these paintings, Cecelia.