As a mid-career survey of Gary Hume opens at Tate Britain, Assistant Curator Melissa Blanchflower introduces the first work you’ll see when you walk through the door

Gary Hume Innocence and Stupidity 1996 Gloss paint on two aluminium panels Photo: Stephen White Bonnefantenmuseum Maastricht © Gary Hume

Gary Hume
Innocence and Stupidity 1996
Gloss paint on two aluminium panels
Two panels, each 2210 x 1700 mm

Bonnefantenmuseum Maastricht
© Gary Hume
Photo: Stephen White

This week we celebrate the opening of a focused survey spanning Gary Hume’s work over the past 20 years, one of Britain’s most highly respected contemporary painters, at Tate Britain. Hume makes drawings from which he abstracts and fragments his compositions, and Innocence and Stupidity is a painting that jostles between abstraction and representation. This early work, the first painting you see in the exhibition through the new doors he’s made especially for the show, depicts the close-up profile of a rabbit’s head mirrored in an adjoining aluminium panel. The planes of colour and reflective composition incidentally resemble a Rorschach ink test.

Inspired by the animal motifs and pictorial flatness in The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries displayed in the Musée de Cluny, Paris, these medieval images also inspired Garden Painting no. 3 (which is on display opposite Innocence and Stupidity). Here the figurative and almost childlike representation of a rabbit, the moon and a goat suggests how varied Hume’s approach to the same subjects can be.

The rabbit is a recurring motif that, for Hume, represents fragility. In this work, his interest lies in the boundaries and naïve interchange between the qualities of innocence and stupidity, questioned at the moment when a rabbit, for instance, freezes in the glare of headlights. The title, referring to the doubling of the imagery and the representation of the rabbit on one side of the painting in daylight and the other during night, suggests that each emotion or virtue invariably has its flipside or opposite, a duality that is a theme inherent in many of Hume’s paintings. Innocence and Stupidity confirms Hume’s interest in the qualities of abstract formalism, as the recognisable features of the rabbit’s eyes and nose assert his commitment to picture making.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on Innocence and Stupidity too – let us know what you think of Hume’s work here or on Twitter, @Tate #Hume. Enjoy the show!

Gary Hume is on display at Tate Britain from this Tuesday, 5 June – 1 September 2013. The exhibition will be run in parallel to a separate survey of celebrated painter Patrick Caulfield (1936–2005), offering you the chance to see alongside each other two complementary British painters from different generations with one ticket. Innocence and Stupidity is on loan from the Bonnefantenmuseum Maastricht.