Gary Hume (1962 – present)
Gary Hume is a contemporary artist who graduated from Goldsmiths and became one of the original members of the YBA (Young British Artists) alongside others such as Tracy Emin, Damien Hirst and Fiona Rae. Hume’s usual medium is household gloss paint on a support of mdf and aluminium, he uses these materials to create a highly reflective surface to his work which allows you to see yourself and your surroundings staring back at you from the painting. Whilst his paints many different subjects from still life to figure work to animals, his style remains prominent in everything he does. He uses large, flat areas of paint on very large supports which give a highly graphical, almost pop art like effect. This modernist, almost abstract art is not something that I would usually be drawn to however I have unexpectedly really enjoyed looking at his work for this research point and it is for the exact purpose of this part of the course, his use of negative space. I have to question though whether indeed much of his work uses negative space, I would suggest that perhaps there is no negative space but that negative space has become positive space and vice versa or perhaps it is all just positive space. It was this thought process that really got me intrigued and looking more and more of his work. A painting that I particularly like is Vicious 2010 (fig 24). This is a good example of his confusing use of both positive and negative space. We can see that, what would traditionally be considered the negative space has been given interest with leaves and flowers, an elaborate wallpaper or background. Where we would imagine the detailing would be (within the figure) there is in fact nothing but empty space. It is interesting that you don’t need the detail to see what we are looking at. It is clearly a man, well built with broad, muscular shoulders and clenched fists. We can even almost make out the man’s hair style. There is a lot of contrasting ideas in here, the strength of the main character compared to the fragility of the floral background and the highly saturated colours on a black backdrop contrasted against the plain brown of the figure. Given that I know Hume likes to create highly reflective surfaces to his art, I wonder if he wants you to place yourself inside the blank figure?
Another painting that caught my attention was Blackbird 1998 (fig 25). In this case, he has clearly defined what should be perceived as negative space and brought this into the main subject. He uses his usual technique, using blocks of flat colour to create the foliage and blackbird, although there does appear to be some areas of thinner paint towards the bird’s head. The negative space around these images are painted in a very light colour (perhaps even white) and is brought into focus as the branch and feet of the bird before re-joining the negative space on the other side. The colours in this painting are made to contrast, the white branches against the black foliage and the dark blue bird against the orange and yellow of its beak and eye. This seems to result in a bold flavour to the painting and whilst I cannot see the reflective nature, I can imagine that this would add an extra dimension to the strength. I also find it interesting how your eye creates the outline, where there is none, of the branches where it blends back into the background. Another observation of mine is that the contours of the foliage look laboured over. When you first look, they appear to be random but upon closer inspection there is a stiffness too them. I find it difficult to imagine there was any flow in its painting and whilst it is quite a simple, almost graphic image, it looks like there has been considerable thought and a large amount scrutinising to achieve the finished product.
Whilst researching negative space in art, I came across a young artist by the name of Tang Yau Hoong. He is a Malaysian artist, illustrator and graphic designer who uses watercolour, calligraphy pens, paint markers, tablets and graphical imaging software. He has a great use of negative space, incorporating it into the main subject to create optical illusions and clever, quirky works. Some are just fun, such as Songbird (fig26), some are more thought provoking, for example, Red (fig 27), others make your eyes go funny such as Sky Aperture (fig 28), some are a mixture of all three. They are all very clever and a lot of thought and preparation must have gone into them to create the weird and/or wonderful combination of subjects. This artist clearly has a love of combining subjects, especially if ironic, into a seamless drawing that can be seen in more than one way.
O’Hagan, Sean – The Guardian, 18th May 2013 – https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/may/18/gary-hume-tate-britain-interview
Tang Yau Hoong – http://tangyauhoong.com/ (artist’s webpage)