Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Gary Hume

Incubus 1996
Alkyd House Paint on Formica, 239x 385 cm

Modern Art, Oxford
24 August 2008

Gary Hume has been making paintings of doors for over twenty years and this is the first exhibition to survey this body of work. There were eighteen Door Paintings spanning the twenty years and seeing them together in the space was a totally different experience than seeing them hung with other work. Personally I thought they lost some of their impact, perhaps because they reflect the environment they are in and when that is just more monochrome Door Paintings, some of the richness is lost.

The painting I have chosen is 'Incubus' as it is one that I have also seen in another gallery, Tate Modern allowing a comparison of the sensation of seeing it in the different environments. Like all of the paintings it is based on institutional swing doors found in schools and hospitals. It is painted in two tones of pink household gloss to give a literal connection with the real thing and the layers of paint are built up over a period of time to give a slight relief to the lighter coloured panels. It is life size and there are drips and runs, just as there would be if he was painting actual doors rather than a facsimile of doors.

Conceptually they are modernist paintings that are, as the critic Adrian Searle noted in Frieze magazine in 1993[1], “a doorway to theory heaven”, positioned halfway between old-fashioned artworks and conceptual ready-mades, offering a wealth of “readings”: metaphorical, social and art historical. Instead of painting as a window on another world we have painting as a closed institutional door!

Whilst I can understand the theoretical excitement about the concept, I empathise most with what they represent to me and that is the feelings that are tapped into through their association with hospitals. Certainly, presented as a single work, rather than exhibited with other variations on the theme, I was better able to appreciate the quite melancholy beauty of the painting and lose myself in its reflective surface. Clearly they have many metaphorical meanings – and these will be different for each viewer, they could be symbolic of the failing NHS or the doors you pass through on the way to give birth; for me it is a much darker set of associations.

[1] Searle, Adrian Shut That Door Frieze #11, July/August 1993

©blackdog 2009

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