Philipp Rudolf Humm is living his dream!
A Belgian/German painter and sculptor, Philipp Rudolf Humm also holds a BA in Philosophy. This balance of existential exploration and creativity is reflected strongly in the paintings that are to be shown in Humm’s exhibition Urban Portraits at the CNB Gallery, London, UK.
Art is Humm’s big passion and he believes that art should have a message. Not content with allowing art to be purely decorative, he uses philosophy to help formulate his own visual messages. He is influenced by Paul Delvaux and Giorgio de Chirico and you can see a correspondence in style especially with Paul Delvaux. It’s a curious parallel to note that Delvaux is Belgium – the nationality of Humm’s mother.
With Humm’s paintings drawing heavily on art history it is interesting to hear his thoughts on how important he feels the past is to educate and inform the present. As Humm himself says, few people find access to the Renaissance and old master paintings and / or they seem old and distanced from them. Humm’s passion leads him to re-compose them: offer a new life that makes them contemporary again and as such, hopefully relevant, accessible and interesting to a new audience. This brings to mind and it is not dissimilar to George Shaw’s recent residency as the ninth Rootstein Hopkins Associate Artist at the National Gallery. Shaw created paintings in response to the historical vistas of the classics by Titian, Constable, Poussin, Bellini and Crivelli merged with personal memories of the low-brow films and magazines of his own youth.
Humm’s paintings themselves are often simplistic in application, with the colours and vibrancy of the pieces enticing and yet strangely feeling familiar. This may in some way be due to the fact they are indeed inspired by historical tableaux’s. When beginning a series Humm firstly develops a big idea which is the uber-structure for individual paintings, this is a process which can take six or so months. Once the bigger picture concept is confirmed Humm then completes a series of sketch paintings before moving onto the canvas, working typically on four paintings in parallel, seven days a week, 12 to 16 hours a day! He doesn’t follow a particular colour theory; believing that colours are a way to express strong feelings and are, as such, intuitive. A process historically practiced by the German Expressionists – another nod to his mixed heritage perhaps!
The element of social commentary that runs through Humm’s work is often disguised with humour and yet there are still powerful messages for those who choose to look for them. Humm himself likes to comment in an ironic and subtle way, however he does see the role of an artist as one that should reflect society. They should try to provoke an engagement from the viewer and where possible action. This role Humm believes should also be political, he feels artists owe it to their children (the next generation). This social responsibility becomes even more essential when society is faced by the impact of Brexit within Europe for example. Humm himself believes Brexit is the ‘wrong signal’ and that it is the old generation leaving a terrible legacy to the young.
Humm’s response also to the political situation in America will no doubt feed through into his work. He has already been exploring the impact within his painting titled ‘Liberated’: “… where I use the Berlin Wall to show a society which is building walls within and between countries. Very worrisome – reminds me a lot of the mood pre-World War 2 in Europe.”
A solution that, Humm is an advocate for is for artists to address societal and historical topics within their creative practice and try to interact with society to provoke change. They must also be integrated into their own communities and social networks. Using social platforms as a tool for sharing not only their work but engaging in social debate and conversation. It is proven that there is success and power in numbers and for artists it is often easier to have a creative voice when reassured and supported by likeminded creatives and commentators.
Humm’s latest exhibition Urban Portraits is a reflection on metropolitan life. While fascinating and stimulating, metropolitan life is full of vanity, superficiality and shattered dreams. Urban Portraits features three series of artworks: Dystopian Allegories, Plastic and Moments, which showcase Humm’s practice of drawing on art history to create playful mise‐en-scènes that in turn allow him to comment on the world around him.
Rebecca Lidert, Gallery Director at CNB finds Humm’s work engrossing: “…particularly the paintings that deal with the loss of the individual in a mass consumerist society. However, there is also a lightness of touch there, too, a keen sense of irony, which engages the viewer, leaving them to ask themselves questions about art and how it defines us.”
Humm’s plans for 2017? It will be all about continuing his Being & Time, Urban Portrait collection, using the portrait series Moments to generate money for charity, and exhibiting his sculptures. He is currently looking for a space in New York, U.S.A. to partner with – a chance for some up front and centre artistic commentary regarding Donald Trump perhaps? It will be interesting to watch Philipp Rudolf Humm’s next steps and his influence on the ‘next generation’. Let’s all hope that he will be able to inspire and assist others to also finally live their dreams.
Kate Enters is an Artist based in London. She is also the Founder and Director of WITP, an arts organisation supporting contemporary artists.