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 first print in the series and it is subtitled Whistler. Its precedents are two paintings from 1996, Whistler (private collection, New York) and Little Whistler (Jay Jopling, London). The print is a cropped and enlarged version of Little Whistler, which is just under half its size (unusually small for a Hume painting), in similar shades of pale and darker green. The painting Whistler is a larger version of the same image in different colours. The portrait depicts an imaginary person with two fingers in his or her mouth. As in Funny Girl (Tate P78685), the fifth image in the series, there is no distinction between the background and the contours of the face. Outlined eyes, lips, two hands and some hanging vegetation, all in two tones of green, are the only details floating in a monotone, pale blue background. Like a cartoon, the figure is extremely simplified yet instantly recognisable.
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
Gary Hume, exhibition catalogue, Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht 1996, [pp.66-7 and 76-7]