Gary Hume at White Cube, London

by Echo Hopkins, February 2012

Best known for his bold paintings on aluminum, Gary Hume’s new show at both Mason’s Yard and Hoxton Square White Cube galleries is no departure from form. The Indifferent Owl, his first show in four years, showcases his latest paintings, drawings and sculptures in what has become recognized as his signature style. At once an homage to the technique we are used to seeing from Hume and a departure from his usual executions and subject matter, The Indifferent Owl teeters on the edge of abstracted raunchiness with pieces that are subtler and based more in nature.

According to Hume, the show’s title was inspired by an experience he had at his house in the Catskills; one night he heard an owl hooting in the woods and the next morning walking nearby he saw a deflated silver balloon on the muddy ground. Hume took these  separate occurrences, and strung them together to reflect that the owl must have watched the balloon drift past him, utterly indifferent. The artist uses this anecdote as a metaphor for the cosmic insignificance of our human preoccupations. Yet curiously, aside from the work that bears the name of the show, this theme has little to do with most of the works shown.

The ground floor gallery space in Hoxton Square houses a panorama of large works completed in Hume’s characteristically bright, glossy palette. From far away the work can seem slick and simple, easy fodder for modern houses worldwide. However, upon closer inspection you begin to gain a better understanding of the details in each of the pieces. Most often shapes and figures are divided not only by their color but also by sharp ridges created by a build up of paint. These small intricacies entice the viewer to look more closely in order to follow the lines around the huge aluminum sheets. The paintings on the walls take on a sculpturesque quality due to their three dimensionality. Migration, the first piece hanging in the show, is the perfect example of this. A green bird stands out  amidst a sky blue background, a seemingly simple piece and subject. However, within the blue there are outlines running through the painting resembling the earth. House paint and thick sheets of aluminum are far from the nature that the pieces are depicting, yet Hume somehow manages to merge the organic and industrial together.

Color and texture play a large role in Hume’s work and this becomes evident within seconds of walking into White Cube’s show. Compared to the more subdued pieces at Mason’s Yard, the Hoxton works showcase bolder colors throughout: reds, purples and bright greens. This is most evident on the second floor with Hume’s deconstructed rainbow. Hanging above eye level, the colors of the rainbow have been dissected into arcs of different shapes and sizes and strung on three of the four walls. Hume created movement with these pieces, making the eye dance around the room. On the fourth wall hangs a lone charcoal drawing with light pink and blue paint laid over the acrylic of the frame in dots and lines. The difference between the large rainbow pieces in comparison to the charcoal sketch is jarring. More charcoal pieces of this nature and color scheme can be found at the Mason’s Yard show along with a larger series of limestone sculptures.

The Indifferent Owl, in both locations, is wholly Gary Hume. His paintings must be seen in person to fully appreciate his love of high gloss paint and its transformative qualities in different lights and at different angles. The show delicately balances natural subject matter hung next to close up paintings of seductive, womanly curves and provides the viewers with examples of Hume’s ability to use line and color in a manner that creates energy on surfaces otherwise flat. Subtlety would not be the word most often used to describe Hume’s work. In this most recent show, however, subtlety is exactly what you encounter.

Gary Hume: The Indifferent Owl
White Cube Hoxton Square & Mason’s Yard
18 January – 25 February 2012