Why I’m such a fan of Frederick Hammersley

March 24th, 2009 | No Comments

Bilingual by Frederick Hammersley

Bilingual by Frederick Hammersley,
via Modern Art Notes

Thanks to a very smart and astute friend of mine, who sent me this post by Tyler Green, I was really happy to learn today that the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo recently acquired a painting by Frederick Hammersley, one of my heroes of painting.

I think the Albright-Knox got it totally right, and Mr. Green is completely correct for urging for “some smart curator” to “organize a thorough revisionist hard-edge painting survey.” I’d love to see it. And I’d also like to see a massive book that documents hard-edge abstraction from John McLaughlin onward. Books on hard-edge painting aren’t exactly numerous.

I think my mind is still blown just thinking of seeing Hammersley’s Hard Edge solo show in Santa Fe three years ago, at Charlotte Jackson. I stood before Hammersley’s with breath taken away by Come Grow. His work was relentlessly original 40-plus years ago and it’s still fresh to this day. And my head still spins by Hammersley’s Even #3 (below), a 2007 addition to Phoenix Art Museum’s collection. In spite of its modest size (40 x 30 inches), it can command a massive wall.

Even #3 by Frederick Hammersley

Even #3,
via contemporaryforum.org

This evening I was fortunate to catch Chuck Jones short animated film from 1965 The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics, which you can see for yourself on YouTube. Aside from Jones’s mesmerizing animation, I completely identified with the line’s quest to somehow reinvent himself into something new, completely contrary to the antics of the scruffy, fun-loving and “cool” squiggle. And I was reminded, ever so gently, that lines and shapes can be transformed in infinite ways, if only you try to bend your brain accordingly.

The Dot and the Line embodies the story of artistic struggle; the triumph of self-discipline over hedonistic whim; and the classic, universal beauty of geometry. The analogy can be extended to Mods vs. Rockers (in The Who’s Quadrophenia) and neo-hard-edge/neo-minimalism vs. lowbrow. The Dot and the Line is the perfect film to watch when faced with a compositional stalling point. It’s also a moving tribute to having faith in one’s ability and power to make something beautiful.

What do Frederick Hammersley and Chuck Jones have in common? Chouinard Art Institute, a predecessor of CalArts. Hammersley attended the school in the early 1940s, and taught there from 1964 to 1968; Jones attended Chouinard in the late 1920s. Wish I could have attended Chouinard, too!

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