Red Barn Door is a large-scale painting on two abutting aluminium panels. From a distance, because of the glossy paint used by Hume, the painting has the appearance of a reflective red monochrome surface. On moving closer, an image of a pair of wooden barn doors becomes apparent. The ‘z’ shape wooden framework of the doors is raised (a result of Hume’s ‘drawing’ their outlines using a form of silicon paste), whereas the planks of wood are delineated by a thin line of gold-coloured paint or ink. In such slight modulations of the chosen image, this painting returns to the series of ‘Door Paintings’ made by Hume between 1988 and 1991, such as Incubus 1991 (Tate T07184). These paintings of institutional doors, initially based on hospital doors, were both impersonal and democratic in their approach and subject. Red Barn Door, however, is also rather different; here the anonymous, functional and modern aspect of his earlier paintings is replaced by a pair of doors that are homely, reflective of a rural location and to some extent even exotic. Red Barn Door was painted in Hume’s house and studio in upstate New York, a place he tends to visit annually each summer, and continues the strand of ‘transatlantic romance’ that the art historian David Anfam identified in Hume’s series of paintings and sculptures exhibited in 2007 under the title American Tan (David Anfam, ‘American Beauty’, in American Tan, exhibition catalogue, White Cube, London 2007, p.7). Hume’s solo show at Matthew Marks Gallery in New York in 2009, in which this painting was shown, also included another barn door subject, Blue ’n’ Cream Barn Door 2009.
The critic and curator Francesco Bonami has explained that for Hume ‘images are no longer representations, but real chunks of life, no less real than himself’ (Francesco Bonami, ‘Gary Hume “Reflection in a Golden Eye”’, in Gary Hume, exhibition catalogue, Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht 1996, unpaginated). If Red Barn Door explores the difference between the painted and the real it does so paradoxically through the forceful expression of its own material and visual reality as both a thing and an experience. One aspect of this is Hume’s use of gloss paint, something that has remained a current throughout much of his work. He has stated in this regard that ‘the high-gloss finish … starts to have a life of its own because it reflects the environment the paintings are shown in … they make you think about light and about where the paintings begin and end’ (quoted in ‘Brilliant’: New Art from London, exhibition catalogue, Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis 1995, p.45).
Gary Hume first returned to his ‘Door’ paintings in 1998 with a temporary external commission for the Hayward Gallery, London. This was followed in 2000 with a painting for the staff refectory in the Zurich headquarters of Swiss Re and further paintings in 2001, 2004 and 2006. Discussing the painting Black Door with Sash 2006 (Modern Art Oxford 2008, reproduced p.55), Hume later remarked that by 2007:
I’m actually starting to use everything rather than limit myself to one part of the vocabulary. And that came about through painting some doors again. I wanted to own them again and to see what would happen if I painted another one … It gave me permission to use any mark that I’ve ever used. There doesn’t have to be a closure of my ideas or my methods. The whole bloody thing’s open and I can wander around and take what I like.
(‘Gary Hume in Conversation with Ulrich Loock’, in White Cube 2007, p.92.)
Unlike other recent ‘Door’ paintings, however, Red Barn Door explicitly moves away from the model of the institutional double swing doors with round or square windows and reflects not just a renewed freedom in Hume’s painting but also, in its American subject matter, confirms that ‘transatlantic romance’ identified by Anfam as one key subject of his recent work.
Gary Hume: Door Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Modern Art Oxford 2008.
Gary Hume, Yardwork, exhibition catalogue, Matthew Marks Gallery, New York 2009, illustrated, unpaginated.
Ulrich Loock and Iwona Blazwick, Gary Hume: A Cat on a Lap, London 2009.