The Door Paintings hold a foundational place in Gary Hume’s oeuvre, and have often been discussed as seminal works. Made up of around 50 paintings, ranging from the elegant and reflective Magnolia and Dolphin doors of the late 1980s and early 1990s to the starker and more luminous colour paintings of the early 2000s, they are a reflection of Hume’s meditations on the every day.
Hume came to international prominence after graduating from Goldsmiths College where he was a member of the Young British Artists group. He participated in the 1988 exhibition Freeze, organised by Damien Hirst, that marked the emergence of this new art movement, including contemporaries such as Tracey Emin, Agnus Fairhurst, and Mat Collishaw. In 1996, Gary Hume was nominated for the Turner Prize, and three years later he represented Great Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1999.
In Hume’s Dolphin Painting No. 3 from 1991, the viewer looks at the structure of a double door, made up of neutral hues, with faint indications of circular windows, and in the context of a hospital they act in a barrier between life and death. Hume explained ‘I went to St Bartholomew's Hospital with a tape measure and a piece of paper, measured numerous doors and made schematic copies of them. I used house paint in an institutional colour, magnolia, which is a colour of no choice…it was about democratic use of the symbol of the door. I had to use a totally democratic door. That's a hospital door the institution of the hospital won't care whether I'm Gary Hume the artist or Gary Hume the dustman. At the point of crisis I will be passing through those doors, so I wanted to make them democratic. I'm not naming the political, but the human. (Gary Hume, quoted in 'Brilliant': New Art from London, exh. cat., Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1995, p. 45)
The series refers to the metaphorical idea that doors represent passageways into an array of internalised experiences in reality and in painting. These life-size representations of hospital, museum, or cafeteria doors occupy a space between abstraction and reality due to their largely monochromatic and simplified formation that contained almost-figurative elements that accurately recall real doors. Hume’s blend of the mysterious nature of an unpassable doorway combined with the fundamentally domestic and everyday nature of their institutional context allows the viewer to instantly connect to the works and reflect upon the sublimity and uncertainty of domesticity.
The reflective nature of the work also contributes to its' success, as Hume said: '... it reflects the environment which the works are shown in... everything would be reflected within the painting, including yourself... So they made you think about light and about where the paintings begin and end.' (A. Searle, "Beyond the Face of the Door", in Gary Hume, exh. cat., London, Whitechapel Gallery, 1999).
Hume’s later works continue his interest in everyday objects and materials, as he continues to employ household gloss paint on aluminium panels to explore a simplified palette and themes of everyday life and popular culture. Around 2005 Hume revisited the Doors series, arranging them in pairs as lovers and anthropomorphising them to continue to develop this interest, blending the sublime with the mundane.
Today Hume’s work is held in numerous prominent public and private collections, including the Tate in London, Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Art Institute of Chicago amongst many others.
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