gloss household paint on aluminium
92 1/8 x 64 1/2 in. (234 x 164cm.)
Painted in 1997
Artist or Maker: Gary Hume (b. 1962)
Provenance: Jay Jopling, London.
Notes: Gary Hume's painting Despot exudes a lively Pop intensity. With its monumental scale and the iconic simplicity of his subject's features, it's form echoes that of a propaganda poster. But the painting is big, bright and shiny, and the seductively glossy paint surface and tragi-comic appearance belie the painting's title. This despot is not a political tyrant at the height of his power and influence, but rather a ridiculous and redundant outsider, a clown-like creature whose painted Cheshire grin does not hide his empty face. This contrast between form and subject creates a strange juxtaposition between the political, the commercial and the ridiculous. It is the combination of these artistic styles, subject matter and the incongruous colours that create the tension in this painting, as it mockingly punctures the gravitas of the propaganda it mimics.
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With the Despot's extreme reduction of form, Hume reaches a high level of pictorial simplification, allowing the different colour fields to emerge in their own right. In this way, the subject matter is rendered subordinate to the colour fields themselves: the artist demonstrates the arbitrariness of any figurative subject in his work, which has become a mere prompt for his personal exploration of subject and form, colour and surface.
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