Gary Hume first came into public attention as a result of his participation in the seminal Frieze exhibition in 1988, which featured many of the now famous Young British Artists, including Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Angus Fairhurst and others. The present work, Four Subtle Doors I, painted in 1989-90, is from one of Gary Hume's most successful and important series, Doors. The high-gloss surface, format and formal structure of these works are bases on real swing doors that can be found in public institutions, such as hospitals and school, etc.
Largely monochromatic, and painted in pale gloss household colours, these works incorporate circles, squares and rectangles to represent the various windows and panels of actual doors. While on one hand appearing to be abstract they simultaneously accurately represent real doors. Using gloss household paint seems to make the connection even more literal. The reflective nature of the work also contributes to the success of the works, 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.'
The Door works were intended to refer to the metaphorical idea that doors represent passageways into various sorts of inner experiences, both in reality and in painting. "These were the kinds of doors one finds in hospitals, opening onto an operating theatre or to a morgue, or lay on the other side, even if it was some kind of institutionalized heaven, the paintings left you feeling that you did not want to go there. The faces one discerned in their internal configuration of low-relief details, the round windows and recessed panel, were a constant reminder of the difference between the painted and the real" (A. Searle, "Beyond the Face of the Door", in Gary Hume, exh. cat., London, Whitechapel Gallery, 1999, p. 11). The sense of confusion that Hume invokes in us through the seductive and realistic surface of the work is heightened by the fact that the door Hume has presented us with is clearly intended to be a passageway to somewhere else, yet simultaneously we are fully aware that the only thing we will find on the other side of this door is an impassable wall.