Gary Hume Interview
The following interview clippings didn't make it into our Gary Hume book, so we have made them available here...
DAVID BARRETT: How does the studio set up work? You have assistants, right? What do they do?
GARY HUME: Zoë's my assistant. She comes in, she has coffee, jam rolls. She works for me two days a week. She prepares the panels, she cleans the brushes, and she paints the paintings.
And what do you do?
[Laughs] Smoke cigarettes. Look at the paintings. I paint the paintings as well. But there are some bits that I can't bear doing, the really fiddly bits. If I had to do them myself it would be a month of my time doing it. So I'll do a certain amount of it - get it started - and then Zoë takes over. And when that stage is done I'll have a look at it and decide what has to change or what to do next, and so it carries on.
DAVID BARRETT: At a certain point you changed from using canvas to using aluminium as a painting support. What were the reasons for that?
GARY HUME: ... There were technical problems that added to the urgency to change: because the canvas moves all the time - it expands and contracts with changing humidity - the surface is very fragile, and if you lean anything against it... Basically it meant that a lot of the paintings were cracking, especially where people were leaning things against them. And it had taken bloody months of painting each layer and sanding it down and painting it again to get that surface! So I thought, 'Oh my God, all I'm going to be doing for the next ten years is mending paintings that some poor sod has bought'. And I didn't want to end up in that situation.
Like a car spray shop, constantly repairing surfaces?
Exactly, so I tried to get a new material that would be inert.
And that's when you moved onto MDF?
Yeah, but that was too heavy and too soft on the corners. And then I tried Formica, and that was also too heavy. It was honeycombed in the centre and was supposedly based on helicopter technology, but - bloody hell! - you would need a big engine to lift a helicopter made out of that stuff. So then I was asking around and going to manufacturers, trying to find a suitable material. Eventually I went to Mike Smith, who works on a lot of Damien Hirst's sculptures and makes a huge amount of artworks. I asked his advice and he suggested aluminium sheets. But when you weld the support bars onto the back of the panels, the heat dents the aluminium so you can't get it flat, and of course with gloss paint you see any fluctuations in the surface. So now the support bars are glued onto the back of the panels with an impact adhesive, and that's what I work on now.
And the paints you use - are they always gloss paint?
I use eggshell paint occasionally, but only very occasionally. And sometimes I use a bit of oil paint - proper artists' oil paint - but again only very occasionally. But, yes, it's just household gloss paint on the whole.
GARY HUME: For the paint to stick to the metal you have to prime the surface with an acid-etch primer - which bites into the aluminium allowing the paint to adhere to it - otherwise you could just scrape it off with your fingernail. But if a painting has some parts where I'm leaving the metal showing through you have to avoid those areas with the primer, so you can't just cover the whole sheet with the primer. This means that you end up painting the piece quite a few times, working with one material, and then another, until you get to your last material. It's very laborious.
DAVID BARRETT: So how long does a painting take to do?
GARY HUME: The very best situation would be three days, from the drawing to the finished painting.
Really? As quick as that?
The worst situation is two years. But that's only because the painting is just awful. And if it's that awful it's always because the drawing is awful in the first place. The drawing makes the painting; if you can't get the drawing right - if you delude yourself into thinking that the drawing is good - then you'll struggle. It might just be the composition; if the composition is wrong you spend months and months and months trying different devices to make the composition better until finally you end up with a brand-new painting. Or you end up taking paint stripper to a painting you've been working on for years and scraping it all back to the aluminium.
DAVID BARRETT: Do you ever leave some of the old painting underneath if you start again on the same panel?
GARY HUME: No, it's always completely gone.
So if there are paint ridges of other images beneath the surface, they're not from a previous painting?
No, they're always designed just for that painting.
DAVID BARRETT: In terms of making up the colours, how do you do that? Do you have a paint mixer in the studio?
GARY HUME: No. We've got lots and lots of tins of paint, and some of those get used straight out of the tin. Because I've got such a stock of it now, I can actually go through and pick out the colour I want. If we run out, or if there's another colour I want, I look through the book of colour chips and go get another tin. But in fact almost all of the colours are mixed now. I've got hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of tall paper cups that I mix the colours in. We've been mixing colours for the last three or four years now.
DAVID BARRETT: What were you using before you discovered that foam draught-excluder worked well to mask off thick areas of paint?
GARY HUME: Layer upon layer upon layer of masking tape - what an idiot! Over and over and over again - you know how thin masking tape is...! It was completely ridiculous. Like all making, you can't believe how stupid you are - how come you didn't notice you'd been a complete fool spending six months putting bloody masking tape on a picture?
DAVID BARRETT: Why did you end up asking other people to choose the colours for the door paintings?
GARY HUME: I didn't want to invest meaning in the colours, so I thought, 'Well, why don't I ask a friend? They'll give me all these colours back and say, "This is the history of my life", and I'll say, "Great, I'll paint it"'. And if anybody thought it was the history of somebody's life, amazing, and if they didn't, well that's OK, because I didn't invest that in it, that was never my purpose.
DAVID BARRETT: So what was the impetus to get into art? Had you always made paintings?
GARY HUME: No, not at all. I got sacked from film editing [Hume had worked as an assistant editor on TV programmes] because I told a director he was a liar in his filmmaking and he wouldn't speak to me after that, which made it impossible to carry on working there. I got 'let go' rather than sacked because the editors felt for me; they knew I wasn't wrong. So then I realized that I couldn't do a job with a boss. I also realized I didn't have any good people skills. So I'm thinking, 'I don't want a boss and I haven't got people skills, what is possibly left?'