FREDERICK HAMMERSLEY: HARD EDGE (2006)
Frederick Hammersley is an artist who truly has faith in his intuition. It was intuition that compelled him, as an artist just out of school, about to paint a self-portrait in his tiny studio/bedroom, to paint one of the squares of his preparatory grid blue. The blue square “felt right” and after a quick inner debate (if he painted the square blue he couldn’t do a self-portrait and at that time money for canvas and paints was scarce) he followed his impulse. This was the start of Hammersley’s exploration of geometric abstraction. This July, Charlotte Jackson Fine Art is proud to present Frederick Hammersley: Hard Edge, an exhibition of both Hammersley’s Hard Edge oil painting and his computer drawings.
It was, perhaps, intuition that compelled Hammersley to participate in a unique pairing of computer and artists back in 1968 at the University of New Mexico. In this exhibition viewers will, for the first time, have a chance to see all seventy-two of Hammersley’s computer drawings, produced from 1968-1969 on the University’s IBM 14000 CORE main-frame computer. Using only the typographical characters available, Hammersley was one of the Art Department staff who participated in this experiment of making art by programming a computer (using the punch-card system of the day). These drawings, consisting of rows of letters, numbers, and symbols (commas, parentheses, etc.) of black ink on white paper are beautiful and subtle in their movements, extremely dynamic for all the constraints placed upon them by their medium. The drawings, Hammersley says, are a series. Beginning with the first he created and ending with the last (72nd) piece, they move from one to the next as an exploration of a single idea. This is the first time that the entire series will be hung together, allowing the viewer to see the genesis of this process from start to finish. These subtle pieces require attentiveness and encourage the viewer to step backward and forward as one scans from the details of typographical characters backward to view the whole, where the nuance of shape and movement become clear.
In addition to Hammersley's computer drawings the gallery will be hanging a collection of his previously unexhibited hard edge oils. These paintings, with their striking colors, interaction of geometric forms (which he often calls “players”), and balance of surprise with a kind of inherent “rightness” will achieve a fascinating dialogue with the black and white computer drawings. Known as one of the founding members of Hard Edge painting, Hammersley was part of the famed 1959 exhibition of Los Angeles artists, “Four Abstract Classicists.” Jules Langsner, in the 1959 catalog wrote, “An Abstract Classicist painting … represents a rational crystallization of intuitive experience.” When asked if he agreed with this statement, Hammersley agreed, “We were in the classical mode in the sense of everything was upfront.” Hammersley went on to add that indeed the feeling (or intuition) when making a work is vital. He describes bringing different shapes and colors together, assembled in one way they might be quite boring, or “dead” but moved around suddenly they will “feel” good. Says Hammersley, “The relationships of the various elements are a family, you can see somehow that there is a bloodline.”
Hammersley’s technique of working with the hard edge oils also encourages his confidence in intuition: he uses a palette knife to apply the paint, rather than a brush. This method came about in his early “Hunch” paintings when he realized he did not want to waste time mixing paint and applying with a brush. When his instinctive insight came he wanted to be able to apply paint directly to the palette knife, thus eliminating a barrier between his action and intuition. Even through the use of his meticulously kept journals where he keeps lists of words that eventually become titles, sketches, and also miniature oil versions of what later become paintings on canvas, Hammersley insists that he is stimulating his intuition. As an example of just how much his instincts mean to him Hammersley quips, “Do you ever really want a fried egg sandwich?” He goes on to describe a particular night when, at 3 a.m., he woke up with a craving for a fried egg sandwich, which he dutifully got out of bed to make. “It was so good,” he says and in the wholehearted tone of his voice you can hear just how much of his life and art that this statement encompasses.
In the work of Frederick Hammersley the viewer is invited into an experience of intuitive “rightness,” where disparate elements come together like a family in a delicate balance and where you always find that the whole (the “big one” as Hammersley dubs it) is much greater than the sum of its parts.