‘Hume’s Vicious could be a predator or prey, prowling through the dark Warholian jungle. It’s the double perspective of this painting which adds to the anxious confusion: the figure is running both forward and away at the same time’ (P. Ellis in C. Saatchi and P. Ellis, 100: The Work that Changed British Art, London 2003, p. 210).
‘Festooned with a few flower-power blooms that look ahead to one of Hume’s signature motifs… the wellknown Vicious, 1994, flaunts (even spoofs) the artist’s newly felt power’ (J. Bankowsky, ‘You Hit Me with a Flower: The Art of Gary Hume,’ in Gary Hume, exh. cat., London, Tate Britain, 2013, p. 27).
Rendered in a vibrant palette of aubergine purple, canary yellow and coral pink enamel paint, Gary Hume’s Vicious marks a pivotal moment in the artist’s oeuvre, turning from his early Door Series to his formative Rome Series. Deeply inspired by the simulacral aesthetic of the mass media and popular culture, Hume’s Vicious meditates in part on Lou Reed’s song of the same name, in particular its opening lyric ‘you hit me with a flower’, which is referenced in the work’s floral decoration. In a manner akin to Damien Hirst’s self-conscious banality, Vicious operates within Hume’s intentionally vacant aesthetic, calmly delineating the flowers and central figure into androgynous beings with great slicks of household gloss, ‘impenetrable, domestic stuff’ (G. Hume, quoted in The British Art Show 1990, exh. cat., London, South Bank Centre, 1990, p.66). Executed in 1994, the present work has been widely exhibited on the international stage, including in the groundbreaking exhibition of young British artists at the Royal Academy, Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection, 1997, which heralded a widespread fascination with Hume and his contemporaries. This was evidently a defining period in the artist’s career: only the year before he was shortlisted for the Turner Prize and just two years later represented Britain in the Venice Biennale.
The artist’s iconic Rome Series, of which Vicious is part, began after an influential visit to the city in 1993. Drawing on a source of far greater historical import than his typical media images of celebrities such as Tony Blackburn and Kate Moss, in this series his work mines the Fascist sculptures that surround Mussolini’s Olympic Stadium in Rome. For Hume, it was the erotic, macho qualities of these sculptures that intrigued him, and these are mirrored in the bold, simplified stance of the outlined figure in the present work. Influenced by the slick, mechanised look of contemporary society even the sweet/sour colour scheme for Vicious is drawn from populist culture. As David Batchelor expands, ‘the colours of the 1994 painting Vicious were derived from colours of a packet of Refreshers. There is something very pleasurable, gleeful even, in selecting colours in this way. There is also something deadly serious in this kind of playful appropriation: a recognition of the enormous complexity of colour, and equally a recognition of the contingency of most colour choices. The act of appropriating colours is a means of resisting colour theory; at the same time it is also a means of remaining open to the pleasures of glimpsed colour and colour clusters’ (D. Batchelor, Gary Hume: The British Pavilion, XLVIII Venice Biennale, exh. cat., London, The British Council, 1999, p. 28).
Testament to Hume’s artistic genius, his works intentionally take on a massproduced aesthetic even though each work is individually and painstakingly crafted by hand. On a surface level this leaves Hume’s minimalized works ripe for comparison with the industrialised aesthetic of Andy Warhol’s screen prints, although an in depth discussion of Hume’s technique demonstrates his unique vision and virtuosity. Primarily, Hume finds an image, in this case Mussolini’s sculptures, and sparsely traces it onto acetate so as to provide just enough information to hint at its origin while leaving it unclear. Hume then projects the delineation onto a board, lays it on the floor and begins to add lakes of pure colour with a meticulous precision that is careful not to disturb the glossy skin of the enamel with brushstrokes. As Hume has famously playfully said, in a manner similar to Warhol’s drôle diction, ‘the surface is all you get of me’ (G. Hume, quoted in A. Searle, ‘Shut that Door’, Frieze, no. 11, Summer 1993, p. 48). The style that Hume began to develop in Vicious and his Rome Series has come to inform his entire oeuvre, in particular the way in which he conflated the floral ‘background’ with the figure in the ‘foreground’ to create an image that operates on one plane, diminishing any possibility for illusionistic, threedimensional space. As critic Lionel Bovier said, his various and highly personal techniques ‘make way in the end…for a unique image, strongly individual and totally ambiguous’ (L. Bovier, ‘Definitely Something,’ Parkett, no. 48, 1996, p. 21). Indeed, ambiguity is the equivalent to vacuity, which, in the subjective process of painting, is the utmost achievement.