Patrick Caulfield and Gary Hume at Tate Britain

-This exhibition is now closed-

Until September, Tate Britain is hosting separate survey exhibitions of the work of British artists Patrick Caulfield and Gary Hume.

The Patrick Caulfield exhibition is a superb survey of the painter’s work, showing the evolution of his style from the flat perspective of 1963’s Still Life With Dagger to the play of light and shadow in his expertly composed 2005 painting Braque Curtain. Caulfield’s modern, everyday subject matter and use of bold lines and colour invites obvious comparisons to Roy Lichtenstein, yet while Lichtenstein’s world is populated by fictitious fighter pilots and damsels in distress, Caulfield’s universe of urban interiors is largely empty of people. In paintings like Dining Recess, Caulfield deftly employs minimal colour and line to create scenes pregnant with the implication of human activity, leaving the viewer with the feeling of being just at arm’s length from the action. In Tandoori Restaurant we are stuck in the darkened dining room while the party continues in the back; in Window at Night we are outside an open window, perhaps eavesdropping on whatever drama is unfolding inside. The sensation allows us to focus on the detail of these scenes, transforming what are essentially modern still lifes into exciting theatrical landscapes.

Gary Hume’s show is less engaging. For all the apparently bold references to celebrity and politics, Hume’s paintings always seem slightly off the mark in terms of catching the cultural zeitgeist. Beautiful, a silhouette of Michael Jackson’s nostrils superimposed over a ghostly outline of Kate Moss’s face, poses vague questions about beauty and fame, but the fact that neither Moss nor Jackson were quite at the height of their celebrity power when Hume made the painting in 2002 makes me wonder if it had much shock value when first unveiled; in 2013 it certainly feels like a relic. Perhaps this is Hume’s point; he has referred to his interest in painting celebrities ‘whose public face has slipped or their ambition has been thwarted’, but in my view any possible pathos is swallowed up by his abstracted aesthetic. Hume’s 2011 portrait, Angela Merkel, was created at a time when the German Chancellor was profoundly important to world affairs, yet the result is a limp, citric, essentially abstract painting which does not seem to say much about anything at all. Hume’s technique of resizing and manipulating his source images to the point of abstraction may well be unique, and there is certainly a textural beauty in his paintings’ thick layers of bold colour, but ultimately for me Hume’s show smacks of style over substance.

Both exhibitions can be visited with a single ticket and are open until 1 September.

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