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Gary Hume exhibition at the Jerwood Gallery

Gary Hume: Flashback at the Jerwood

Gary Hume: Flashback traces a path from Hume’s early works to the present day, including some outstanding early acquisitions of his paintings by the Arts Council Collection as well as key works from the artist’s own collection. HOT reporter Joe Fearn went to interview him.

Four Feet in the Garden, 1995 by Gary HumeWe sat facing each other either side of a table in a private room at the Jerwood Gallery. When I was a student at Hull, a lecturer once told me that her supervisor at Oxford, Peter Strawson, looked like a philosopher. My first impression was that Gary Hume looked like I’d imagined a previous ‘Young British Artist’ enfant terrible.

Earlier I’d entered Hastings imposing new art gallery at Rock-a Nore, and noticed a book on sale called ‘Growing up, the YBA at 50.’ I made a mental note to ask the 50 year old artist if the young Gary had ever thought he would be such a success, and if the YBA movement knew they were part of something momentous. But for now, I decided to stick to my prepared script.

Joe Fearn: The Jerwood’s inaugural artist, Rose Wiley, told me she had painted from an early age. So what made you get into art? Had you always made paintings?

Artist Gary Hume at The Jerwood Gallery, July 2012Gary Hume: No. When I was in my early twenties, I always thought I knew better than the people I worked with (Hume had worked as an assistant editor on TV programmes). I decided I did not want to work for a boss; rather I should get into something that only I could do.

Hume graduated from Goldsmiths College in 1988. He was nominated for the Turner prize in 1996. His earliest notable works are his ‘door paintings’, life-size representations of hospital doors, from the early 1990s. These proved a critical success, being shown in Germany and the United States, as well as attracting the attention of collector Charles Saatchi.

Joe Fearn: I read that for your door paintings you asked other people to choose the colour. Why was that?

Gary Hume: It was an exercise in subjectivity and colour. I wanted to break out of a possible ‘formalism’. I needed a template. I didn’t want to invest meaning in the colours, so I thought, ‘Well, why don’t I ask a friend? Friends chose the colours and provided a personal narrative, saying something like, “This is the colour of my girlfriend’s latest dress”, and I painted it. That became the way they always saw the artwork; so it formed part of the history of somebody’s life. If people didn’t see it that way, well that was OK, because I didn’t invest that in it, that was never my purpose.

Joe Fearn: Do you mix the colours yourself?

Gary Hume: No. I use it ready-mixed straight out of the tin. If I run out, or if there’s another colour I want, I look through the book of colour chips and go get another tin from the high-street shop.

Joe Fearn: Do you always use gloss paint?

Gary Hume: I use eggshell paint occasionally, but only very occasionally. And sometimes I use a bit of oil paint – proper artists’ oil paint – but again only very occasionally. But, yes, it’s just household gloss paint on the whole.

American Tan VI (Bronze), 2006–07 by Gary HumeJoe Fearn: What made you change from painting on canvas to painting onto aluminium?

Gary Hume: Technical problems: because the canvas moves all the time – it expands and contracts with changing humidity – the surface is very fragile. Basically it meant that a lot of the paintings were cracking. It had taken bloody months of painting each layer and sanding it down and painting it again to get that surface, so I tried to get a new material that would be inert.

Joe Fearn: And that’s when you moved onto MDF?

Gary Hume: Yeah, but that was too heavy and too soft on the corners. And then I tried Formica, and that was also too heavy, even though it was honeycombed in the centre. So I needed to find a suitable material. Eventually Mike Smith, (who works on a lot of Damien Hirst’s sculptures and has a prodigious output) suggested aluminium sheets. But when you weld the support bars onto the back of the panels, the heat dents the aluminium so you can’t get it flat, and of course with gloss paint you see any fluctuations in the surface. So now the support bars are glued onto the back of the panels with an impact adhesive, and that’s what I work on now. When the aluminium arrives it is a beautiful object and I think, “How am I going to ruin this!” It forces me to strive to turn it into something beautiful.

Joe Fearn: And is that quite a technical process?

Gary Hume: Yes it is. I discovered that foam draught-excluder works well to mask off thick areas of paint. To get the paint to stick to the metal you have to prime the surface with an acid-etch primer – which bites into the aluminium allowing the paint to adhere to it – otherwise, you could just scrape it off with your fingernail. But if a painting has some parts where I’m leaving the metal showing through you have to avoid those areas with the primer, so you can’t just cover the whole sheet with the primer. This means that you end up painting the piece quite a few times, working with one material, and then another, until you get to your last material. It’s very laborious.

Joe Fearn: So how long does a painting take to complete?

Gary Hume: The very best scenario would be three days, from the drawing to the finished painting. The worst is two years. But that would be only because the painting is just awful. If it’s that awful it’s always because the drawing is awful in the first place. The drawing makes the painting; if you can’t get the drawing right – if you delude yourself into thinking that the drawing is good – then you’ll struggle. It might just be the composition; if the composition is wrong you spend months and months trying different devices to make the composition better until finally you end up with a brand new painting. Or you end up taking paint stripper to a painting you’ve been working on for years and scraping it all back to the aluminium

Joe Fearn: What did you use before draught excluder?

Gary Hume: Layer upon layer upon layer of masking tape.

Joe Fearn: Chuffin’ ’ell!

Gary Hume: I know! What an idiot! It was ridiculous; over and over again – you know how thin masking tape is!

Joe Fearn: How long did that usually take?

Gary Hume: Up to six months! Like all making, you can’t believe how stupid you are – how come you didn’t notice you’d been a complete fool spending so much time putting bloody masking tape on a picture!

At this point our laughter was interrupted as the lady from the Jerwood entered and politely called time, because Gary had a scheduled telephone interview.

Joe Fearn: Who or what has influenced you?

Gary Hume: There are constant influences. You look for that which is useful, that which you can use; you can steal more from lesser artists, they tend to stick things in which are mistakes. You don’t think of a Warhol painting “Yes, I can use that can of soup.” But if a can of soup is out of place-if it doesn’t work-you can pick up on that.

We chatted on the way out.

Joe Fearn: Did you always know you were going to be a successful artist?

Gary Hume: Yes.

Joe Fearn: Really?

Gary Hume: Well, someone has to sell paintings, so why not me?

Joe Fearn: Does that go for the YBA in general?

Gary Hume: Yeah. We had the energy combined with lots of luck; we could all feel it.

Joe Fearn: Do you still keep in touch people from the YBA?

Gary Hume: Yeah.

Joe Fearn: You talked about your influences. Should you influence anyone?

Gary Hume: My Son.

Gary Hume: Flashback (from The Arts Council Collection) is on show at the Jerwood Gallery until 23 September.

For more information and details of opening times, visit the Jerwood Gallery website.

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Posted 11:34 Wednesday, Jul 18, 2012 In: Arts News

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