Tuesday, 14 January 2014


If you are out at night and standing at a junction of several arterial traffic-packed roads, each of which needs several traffic lights to cross – and you haven’t a street map - you need time and patience to find Pecking Bird . Agreed it is nearly 14 metres high and 9 metres wide, so should be difficult to miss. The fact that you know it is 17 metres about ground is another clue. I do eventually find it.

This is Gary Hume's first piece of public art, and at first glance it looks like an wordless advertisement. In a sense it is, as it was commissioned by one of Europe’s largest real estate investment trusts and a bird was chosen to remind passers-by of the 275 acres of parkland in nearby Regent’s Park.

Hume's chosen medium of household gloss paint on aluminium adds to the work's luminosity. He captures a fleeting moment: the bird’s wings are cropped, its eye is empty, that beak is not cuddly.  We cannot see them but we know that the insects below - or any other food packages - are in for a shock. The crisp edges and surprising colours challenge us to respond.   
Tom Lubbock, writing in the Independent in 1999, the year when I first saw and fell in love with Hume’s paintings, said "The charm of these paintings is that they look like they could have gone a million and one ways, but have ended up this one particular way. Of course it takes skill, something like wit, to convincingly combine a sense of arbitrariness and a sense of fixity," 

The artist has the last word. Interviewing Hume in his studio last May before his show opened at Tate Britain, Sean O’Hagan of the Observer wrote “I asked Hume what constitutes an interesting painting? I would have assumed they were all interesting or else he would have binned them. He thinks about this for some time. "Well, a painting should be tough, it should have muscle, but I have to find some tenderness in it too. There has to be that dynamic".

P S Pecking Bird is in central London, on the corner of Brock Street and Hampstead Road It can be seen from Tottenham Court Road, Euston Road and Warren Street station.


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