Artist, former Vodafone CEO Philipp Humm: ‘We will invent the thing that destroys us’
PUBLISHED: 17:00 18 December 2017
The 58-year-old Gospel Oak tech investor ditched corporate life for an art career, exhibiting in New York, Las Vegas, and at London’s Saatchi and Hix galleries
A former Amazon executive and CEO of Vodafone and TMobile, Philipp Humm isn’t your usual struggling artist.
But nor perhaps is the philosophy graduate your usual captain of industry.
The 58-year-old tech investor has ditched corporate life for an art career, exhibiting in New York, Las Vegas, and at London’s Saatchi and Hix galleries when he realised: “60 hours a week of a normal corporate office job” and another 30-40 hours devoted to art was untenable.
“As a child I would get A’s in art and maths and I applied for art school in Berlin, but then somehow I got into business and put art on the side when the children were small,” says the German-born Belgian.
The Gospel Oak resident, who probably doesn’t do anything by halves, says the switch, which included studying at London’s Fine Arts Studio and the Fine Art Academy in Florence, felt natural.
“I realised I needed to be full time to really develop as an artist, if you want to be serious about it, you can’t just do it as a hobby, and I couldn’t do 100 hours a week forever.
“Before your family is growing and you are establishing yourself, but once that is done you start reflecting what else? I had these two strong passions so for me the ‘what else’ was easy. Art simply had far more appeal.”
By all accounts the father of three’s own creativity was an asset in his business career.
“In corporate life you are better off having people who are creative, to foster an environment where people think outside the box and reinvent the way you do business.”
Humm theorises that there are two types of artist; one who “waits for an idea or inspiration, then realises it,” and the other who is conceptually driven.
“They are more like a writer, they start with a narrative and their art is an expression of that story.”
For him his practice is all about telling stories. Dismissive of “non-threatening abstract art by a famous name that goes well with the sofa,” he wants viewers to engage with and reflect on his often challenging images.
Dubbed by one critic ‘Pop Expressionism,’ Humm’s paintings and sculptures meld art history – from the Greeks to Michaelangelo - with pop culture, iconic imagery, a playful tone and vibrant colours.
An Asian version of Manet’s Olympia is tended by a factotum with David Beckham’s body and Samuel Beckett’s head; Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst join a life drawing class painting Boticelli’s Venus; Claudia Schiffer, Kate Moss, Madonna and Naomi Campbell eat a sumptuous al fresco feast, and Fouquet’s Melun Diptych features Barbie cupids in a meditation on “extreme ideas of adulation and beauty” throughout history.
You might think the former advertising chief is having his cake and eating it with his take-down of sexist branding featuring Paris Hilton, a Calvin Klein model, and a crucified Jesus turning his back on it all, but Humm insists his own industry record was ethical
“We were against sexism, we were always very balanced in thinking of the impact of portraying a brand, but there’s nothing bad per se in advertising. Communicating with people to portray things in a certain way, to try to sell things is a normal part of life.”
His main recurring theme is the technology he helps to promote, its impact on humans and how it will define the way society evolves.
In his first floor studio a new work features a woman viewed from every angle takes a selfie even while she breaks apart.
“I’m a tech optimist and at the same time a pessimist,” explains Humm.
“Tech can fix a lot of the problems we create; like growing food artificially, or using robots to help us when we get older.
“But ultimately human curiosity won’t let us stop until we invent the thing that will destroy us. Humans have always been fascinated by the meaning of life. With God versus humans, humans always love to be God. Before long we will create robots that are superior to humans.”