From his breakthrough Door paintings to his most recent work, Gary Hume has harnessed the aesthetic power of symmetry. Double Bloom introduces three new paintings of flowers that play with balance, repetition—and the importance of “how things meet.”
The River beguiles the viewer with its playful sense of space and surprising symmetry. Two pairs of flowers, linked together by their stems, move in different directions above and below the stark horizon that bisects the painting. If the horizon divides the painting into earth and sky and thus invites us to read the painting as a landscape, the surreal presence of the flowers defies that interpretation. Is the strip of green The River or the shore? The painting alternates between a flat, symmetrical pattern and a landscape without settling into a single identity. Heraclitus famously said you could never step into the same river twice, suggesting that eternal change is the essence of the world. But the symmetry of The River resists the flow of narrative, conjuring an abstract pictorial space that suspends time, luring the viewer into a frozen moment of internal dynamism and repetitive rhythms.
“Painting itself is a still thing, and I just love that. There’s a moment of stillness—even if it’s a Jackson Pollock—there’s a stillness that I completely adore. That’s why I find narrative problematic — it equals time. I like the fact that painting is just as is: save as.” –Gary Hume
Flowers have been a mainstay of Hume’s oeuvre for nearly 30 years. Deployed by artists as symbols of transience and mortality for millennia, Hume’s recent flower paintings alter that tradition, creating instead a Warholian space of repetition and symmetry. Hume’s Door paintings, his breakthrough as an artist, have a Warholian quality: an everyday thing (a pair of hospital doors) is transformed into an image almost indistinguishable from the real object. Hume then renders the doors into a painting that is both beautiful and uncanny. Look at Dream (1991): the blues, creams and blacks have an industrial, everyday quality, yet the painting itself possesses a pleasing balance and symmetry. If the double doors are at once immediately recognizable as architecture, they are also geometric abstractions. The symmetrical structure inevitably brings to mind a human face—if not an abstracted skull.
Double Exposure (2015), a diptych of delicate roses, recalls another touchstone for Hume: the work of Ellsworth Kelly. Celebrated for his geometric abstractions and broad swathes of color, the artist was also an exquisite draftsperson, and Hume especially prizes his drawings of plants and flowers. Kelly, who was drawn to Chinese painting and calligraphy, talked about a subject being “caught in the process of becoming abstract.” The description is apt for both Hume and the impulse behind many classical Chinese paintings. Look at the defined and elegant lines of Ma Lin’s Orchid (c. 1250), for instance. Depicted without a context, abstracted from their environment, and in a negative space that asserts itself as a palpable substance, the orchids appear suspended in a medium beyond time. The ink-on-silk painting is reminiscent of a work such as Kelly’s Lillies (1980), not to mention Hume’s delicate handling of line in Double Exposure and the recent “double” flower paintings.
“I feel very much that a painting works when I’m not involved with it anymore: that’s when a painting is finished, when it doesn’t care what I think and it’s very satisfied with its own state. So I’m as much of a viewer of them once they’re finished, because I don’t know who they are—they really are like they’ve always existed and they are real people—even the flowers.” –Gary Hume