September 8, 2007

Gary Hume's cheerleaders, angels, flowers and icons

"Gary Hume: American Tan," White Cube Mason’s Yard, London. Through Oct. 7.

"Gary Hume Prints: Angels, Flowers and Icons," Hastings Art Museum and Gallery, East Sussex. Through Sept. 23.

Dividing his time between studios in London and upstate New York, Hume's new series of paintings and bronze sculptures at Mason's Yard is informed by his impressions of the deadening assault that American policy and culture inflict on the world. At least according to the gallery's press release. Hume himself has declared that his paintings are about the materials and the process. The series of paintings began with images of frothy cheerleaders.

In The Independent, Paul Vallely met Hume in his east-London studio: "Before I went to see him I had looked at dozens of his paintings on the internet. They gave no real idea of what he was about. The two-dimensionality of the computer screen gives no sense of the vibrancy, texture or hugeness of his work. There are dozens of pieces – paintings mainly, but also a number of sculptures – crammed into the studio in preparation for his new exhibition, American Tan, at the White Cube gallery's Mason's Yard site in London's West End. They jostle with one another like solipsistic commuters. Most are close-focused studies of sections of the bodies of American cheerleaders, all legs and ra-ra skirts and frilly giant pom-poms. Mixed in with them are more abstract paintings of what Hume describes as "ugly chicks". Some of his paintings look banal, but others are viscerally exciting. There is a radiance to his work, and that is more than just because of its shiny surface gloss.

"He describes the idiosyncratic process that produces it. He works from photographs that catch his fancy in magazines or books, which he traces on to acetate. He then projects the outline on to his studio wall. 'I pull the image in and out to see at what size it looks best, to see when it comes alive.' He then transfers the outline on to large sheets of shining aluminium and etches the shapes into it with acid. Then he lies the sheets flat on the ground, pouring on household gloss paints in pre-mixed hues. Read more.

In The Observer, Laura Cummings suggests that British painting's former "It" boy is now a Royal Academician, and recalls that DeKooning had a fascination with American cheerleadering, too. "What this frieze of fragments reminds you, in painting after painting, is just what a bizarre tradition cheerleading is, in which the girls are all arms and legs and no faces, their extremities sprouting weird pompoms, their performance somewhere between mechanical order and high-kicking, crotch-exposing chaos. I wouldn't want to overstate it, but there is just a chance that Hume may be one of Britart's very rare feminists....

"The loud, tinsel-bright hysteria of cheerleading is silenced and frozen into some very solemn and poignant images here. A beautiful girl hovering in chalky outline against a backdrop of golden limbs becomes the ghost of a cheerleader. Pompoms appear like strange new plants. In one of very few paintings where the figure is upright and immediately recognisable, the dancer's open-mouthed Colgate smile is reversed out to become a queer black halo floating above her lilac silhouette. The image appears grave, even melancholy, until you notice the faint traces of panda eyes in the high-gloss black shape of the head. Hume is quite capable of undermining the solemnity of any painting - any icon - with these cartoonish, post-Pop details." Read more.

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