5 September – 6 October 2007
American Tan showed a contemporary master at the height of his form, with all the seductive colours and shapes for which Hume is renowned, and yet this new body of work is also a remarkable departure for the artist. Dividing his time between studios in London and upstate New York, the series has a unifying theme that developed during his time in America. In an interview with Ulrich Loock, Hume comments that this group of paintings and sculptures represents 'responses to America and how we're all being tanned by American policy and culture, the war and simple, complicated stuff like that. It started off with cheerleaders. The form of them is absolutely fantastic. They're athletic. They're super-gymnasts . . .' From this image of the cheerleader, Hume has created a powerful take on contemporary American culture.
The fluffy dynamism of cheerleading - the speed, power and polish of young women performing for a crowd - contrasts sharply with the rigid shapes of the paintings, forms abstracted from the limbs, hips and shoulders and the negative space they create, to form broad expanses of slick, glossy colour. Sometimes the imagery is palpable and clear, with bodily forms readily visible, while in others the shapes are more ambiguous and haunting. Although the palette, with its mix of pastels and gentle flesh tones, conveys a kind of innocence, the sense of dislocation and rupture in many of the paintings strikes a note of disquiet. Dissecting these figures to find both hints of beauty and anxiety in the American dream, Hume finds ambivalence in this most iconic of American art forms: simultaneous desire and repulsion, overt sexuality colliding with playful innocence, power and pride wrapped up in exuberant kitsch.
Seven sculptures extend Hume’s theme. To make these large-scale bronze works, Hume began with mannequin parts, those idealised shapes designed to represent human limbs in their most nonspecific and perfected form. Hume fused the parts into sets of pairs and enlarged them to create giant bronze limbs that stretch and bend into space like surreal, biomorphic excrescences. Some of the limbs are topped with enormous, aluminum pompons, while others are left truncated. With forms and colours balanced delicately between the decorative and the grotesque, the sculptures hint at the excess and flamboyance of American culture.
Gary Hume has exhibited widely in both solo and group exhibitions, including Kestnergesellschaft, Hannover, Kunsthaus Bregenz, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin and the Venice Biennale, where he represented Britain in 1999. Angels, Flowers and Icons, a retrospective exhibition of his prints, is at the Hastings Museum and Art Gallery, Hastings, until 23 September.
A fully illustrated catalogue, with an essay by distinguished historian of American painting David Anfam, and an interview with the artist by Ulrich Loock, Deputy Director of Museu Serralves in Porto, Portugal, accompanied the exhibition.