View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
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 sixth image and its subtitle is Poor Thing. It is based on a larger painting of the same title (1994, private collection, New York) in gloss paint on aluminium panel. Like Angel and Young Woman (Tate P78682 and P78683), other images in the series, Poor Thing is a portrait of a damaged or unhappy person whose distress is symbolically expressed by uneven eyes and, in this instance, confirmed by the title. Poor Thing is an imaginary figure in a predominantly yellow image. The subject’s face and neck are a flat area of beige surrounded by a yellow top, yellow hair and a background made up of areas of several tones of yellow. Eyes, eyebrows and nose are also flat yellow areas. Only one eye has a brown pupil. The thin lips of its unevenly shaped mouth are pink. Large black letters, I, N, F and C (which could be patterning on the subject’s top), appear along the bottom of the image, spreading over the subject’s shoulders. A pale pink blob hanging below the ear suggests an earring. Unlike Young Woman, Poor Thing has no hint of fashion.
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.66
Gary Hume, exhibition catalogue, Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht 1996, pp.18-19