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Frederick Hammersley: Drawing Closer, Works on Paper 1940-1980  (2008-2009)

Art historian, writer, and curator Dave Hickey has called Frederick Hammersley’s paintings “the best-kept secrets in the art world and easily the most ravishing.” Associated since the 1950s with the California “Abstract Classicists,” the artist is known and respected as one of hard-edged abstraction’s leading practitioners.

Thus it may seem almost antithetical to organize an exhibition of Hammersley’s mostly figurative drawings, along with a small series of bronze sculptures of variations on the female nude. But that’s exactly the content of Charlotte Jackson Fine Art’s exhibition titled Frederick Hammersley: Drawing Closer, Works on Paper 1940-1980. A high percentage of the works on paper, and all of the sculptures, have never before been publicly exhibited.

Upon revelation of Hammersley’s declaration that drawing is “the power behind the throne,” however, and that he has continued to draw since his school days mid-century at Chouinard Art Institute and at various night classes that featured a live model for what Hammersley recalls was a five-dollar fee, it is no surprise that such an exhibition has at long last been planned. In fact, a quick comparative look at what the artist calls the “cliché of representation” in the self-portrait (above) and the sense of “winging it” in Outward (below) reveals the artist’s significant moment, which occurred in the ’60s, of breaking away from illusionist work to something that felt like a huge relief to him—and is key to the methodology of his work. Whether drawing or painting, Hammersley works by hunches, pushing himself past what is expected to the next right step.

Hammersley holds the power of draftsmanship in high regard, and cites Michelangelo, Leonardo (“next to God,” he says), and Degas as inspirations for his own art. In fact, maintains Hammersley, “any giant [in art history] is a marvelous draftsman, but you don’t always see it [in their paintings].” He is close to celebrating his 90th birthday, and still wishes he could spend more time drawing.

ART Santa Fe Presents announces the upcoming publication of Frederick Hammersley: Works From 1938 through 2001, with over 100 color plates, and essays by Hickey, David Pagel, Arden Reed, and Joseph Traugott. Also included in the monograph is an interview with the artist conducted by Sarah S. King in the spring of 2008.