Rudolf Humm is an emerging artist on the London scene. In February some of his paintings were shown prominently at a fashion show in the city. One, called “Amazonian,” depicts nude mannequins in high heels marching past what appears to be a self portrait with Brigitte Bardot.
Rudolf’s personal website explains how as a teenager in Germany he was rejected by the Academy of Arts in Berlin and had to wait decades to pursue his passion. His Facebook page shows a middle-aged man with a black beret, a paint brush tucked behind his ear. His profile says he is an “artist with an ironic perspective of urban lifestyles.”
What most people (and even Wikipedia) don’t know is that Rudolf has an alter ego. He is Philipp Humm, a globe-trotting telecom executive. Philipp, who admits only to being in his “mid-50s,” was CEO of T-Mobile in the U.S. until he left Seattle for London in 2012 to become one of the top executives at Vodafone Group PLC, the world’s second biggest telecom company.
Philipp left Vodafone last year and Rudolf started to appear at art classes and London galleries, on Instagram and Facebook. Using his middle name, he launched his painting career and vaguely alluded to his alternate life. “There is more than one Humm in me and my art frees some of them,” reads a quote posted on the artist’s website.
It isn’t easy to connect the two Humms. Google searches fail to turn up any evidence of a double life. For his personal email address, he uses his initials. He signs his paintings simply “Humm.” Only after examining news photos of Philipp alongside a video interview of Rudolf did it become clear the two men were the same person.
On Instagram, his 147 followers know him as @rudolfhumm. He recently described himself there as an artist ”with a foot in the past and a foot in the future.” His feed is filled with dozens of colorful nudes mixed with his reproductions of famous 20th-century photographs. He recently began sculpting.
On business-networking site LinkedIn, there is only Philipp. His occupation is listed as “self-employed.” But his profile has the mileposts of a successful business career: an M.B.A., early stints at Procter & Gamble Co. and McKinsey & Co., and then top jobs at European telecoms.
That sounds more like the man who a few years ago steered T-Mobile into its $39 billion sale to AT&T Inc. and then defended the transaction before a U.S. Senate hearing. Antitrust regulators would later block the deal. Philipp hasn’t exited the business world; he serves on the board of a high-profile ad-blocking startup, Shine Technologies.
History is filled with artists and authors who hid or changed identities. Women writers, from Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot) to J.K. Rowling (Robert Galbraith), have used male pen names. Country star Garth Brooks tried to reinvent himself as rocker Chris Gaines; rock band Green Day has released albums under at least one alternate name.
The British street artist Banksy has created an entire career around keeping his identity secret. Last month, a group of researchers published a paper in the Journal of Spatial Science that claimed to unmask the artist using a technique they called “geographic profiling.”
Matt Peacock, a former Vodafone colleague, said he was shocked when Philipp shared his secret with him, while the two executives waited at an airport. But he isn’t surprised his former co-worker hasn’t used his business success to gain attention for his art.
“He’s not a showoff at all,” he said, recalling Mr. Humm had a knack for poring over spreadsheets and asking about minute details in meetings. “He is a thinker.”
Some of Rudolf’s work recently began showing at Walton Fine Arts, a gallery in London. One painting titled “Headless Men” has a group of men in business suits standing behind a Paris metro stop while topless female mannequins stand in the foreground. The price tag on the gallery’s website is £4,000, or about $5,800.
“We look for artists that we feel have talent and we feel are very different and unusual,” said the gallery’s owner, Michael Sakhai. He said he didn’t recall how he first discovered Rudolf or his work, adding the artist is reluctant to talk about his personal life. “I think he is an extremely talented gentleman,” he added.
There are some clues online about Rudolf’s dual life. The biography on Rudolf’s website includes a reference to a “successful corporate career.” Some older Instagram posts include a hashtag of #PhilippHumm without explanation.
Mr. Humm initially declined to comment for this article but acknowledged his work as Rudolf. He later agreed to discuss his two identities in an email he signed as “Philipp-Rudolf Humm.”
Mr. Humm, who answered the phone simply as “Humm,” said he formed the separate identity when he decided to become a professional artist. He wanted his artwork to develop without anyone making a connection to his prior accomplishments.
“I think it is easier to establish a new brand in the market, rather than work against an existing brand, which was the business brand,” he said of his two working names.
The CEO-turned-painter compared himself to car maker Volkswagen AG, which owns Audi and Porsche but keeps each brand separate.
“It is better to have Rudolf Humm focused just on the art,” he said.
Sarah Thornton, sociologist and author of “Seven Days in the Art World,” said finding success in the art world as a second career can be difficult. “Doing a complete career turnaround from corporate executive to artist is as tough as saying I want to be a ballerina,” she said. “I admire the chutzpah.”
Mr. Humm said he has sold five works—a process he described as difficult because of his attachment to the pieces. He is planning an exhibition for next year and a gallery in Germany is planning to show some of his work, he said.
“For me, success is, over time,” Mr. Humm said, “establishing myself as a serious artist and hopefully being shown in a few museums.”
Article by THOMAS GRYTA, WALL STREET JOURNAL
Date: 21st April 2016