Hume’s Portraits is a series of ten screenprints commissioned by Charles Booth-Clibborn and published by him under his imprint, The Paragon Press, London. They were proofed and printed at Coriander Studio, London in an edition of thirty-six plus ten artist’s proofs. Tate’s copy is number eighteen in the edition. Each print was made using between three and fifteen colours and coated with several layers of varnish in sections. The varnish results in a sheer, glossy surface similar to that achieved by Hume’s use of household gloss paint in his paintings such as Incubus 1991 (Tate T07184) and Water Painting 1999 (Tate T07618). The prints are based on paintings Hume made between 1994 and 1998. Some of these paintings were derived from photographs, others from Hume’s imagination. Each print has a subtitle related to the original painting. This is the fifth image and its subtitle is Funny Girl. It is based on a larger painting of the same title (1995, Jay Jopling, London) in gloss paint on aluminium panel which was derived from a photograph of an anonymous woman. The original’s white, textured background has been transformed in the print to a flat, beige monochrome. As in Whistler (Tate P78681), the first portrait in the series, there is no boundary between the subject’s face and the background. The lines indicating hair in the painting are not reproduced in the print. Set in the flesh-toned background, four areas of colour represent two eyes, a mouth and a hand. Lids, lashes and pupils are delineated by fine beige-coloured lines within the mustard-coloured eye areas. The lips are pink and the hand extending from the bottom of the paper to eye level is positioned as though it is supporting the girl’s face. Her eyes appear open and closed at the same time, evoking internal reverie.
Screenprinting is a medium ideally suited to Hume’s imagery since it involves layering areas of flat colour. His paintings of the early to mid 1990s are characterised by the use of simple blocks of vivid colour and elegant line reminiscent of the late prints of French artist Henri Matisse (1869-1954). During this period Hume painted such iconic subjects as the Christian Madonna 1993 (private collection, London), as well as such everyday objects as flowers, birds, children’s toys and feet or hands. He also made portraits of artists and celebrities, from which he derived the images used in this portfolio of prints. Portraits provides a refined version of Hume’s painterly exploration of the difference between the surface and what lies underneath, what goes into the making of the image, or the mask, of a public icon and how a generic figure is depicted. Pushing Hume’s images still further towards abstraction, this portfolio contributes to the investigation into the signs or language of visual representation central to contemporary figurative painting.
Patrick Elliott, Jeremy Lewison, Contemporary British Art in Print: The Publications of Charles Booth-Clibborn and his Imprint The Paragon Press 1995-2000, London 2001, pp.10, 19, 146-57 and 320, reproduced (colour) p.146
Gary Hume, exhibition catalogue, British Pavilion, XLVIII Venice Biennale, British Council 1999, p.53
Gary Hume, exhibition catalogue, Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht 1996, pp.28-9