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“Hunches, Geometrics, Organics:

Paintings by Frederick Hammersley”

Opens at the Pomona College Museum of Art

Cynthia Peters December 15, 2006

“Hunches, Geometrics, Organics: Paintings by Frederick Hammersley,” an exhibition of work from 1950 to 2001, will be on view from January 23 through April 8, 2007, at the Pomona College Museum of Art. An opening reception will be held at the Museum from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, January 27. David Pagel will present a lecture on Hammersley’s work on Wednesday, March 21, at 4:15 p.m.

This exhibition presents an overview of Hammersley’s work through the early 21st century and includes never-before-seen drawings, lithographs, and paintings. An abstract painter most famously linked with a pivotal moment in Los Angeles art history, the 1959 exhibition called “Four Abstract Classicists,” Hammersley’s mature body of work consistently has explored three distinct categories—the “hunch” paintings of 1953-59, the “geometric” paintings of 1959-64 and 1965 to the mid-1990s, and the “organic” paintings from 1964 and 1982 to the present.

Hammersley was born in Salt Lake City in 1919, and moved to Los Angeles at the age of 21 to attend Chouinard Art School. After serving in the Army from 1942-46 and studying briefly at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris in 1946 (where he met Brancusi, Braque, and Picasso), he returned to Los Angeles to complete his studies at Chouinard and Jepson Art School and taught at both schools in the 1950s. In 1953 he joined Pomona College as Visiting Professor of Painting where he taught until 1962. In 1968 he left Los Angeles for Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he taught briefly at the University of New Mexico (his early experiments with computer drawings while at UNM are on view in this exhibition), and where he has resided ever since. 

Hammersley’s earliest paintings, the “hunch” paintings, were works in which the artist started with an initial color form and intuitively completed the rest of painting, adding more forms and colors. Two of the early “hunch” paintings completed while he taught at Pomona College are included—the 1958 “Up Within” and the 1959 “Redscape.”

The “geometric” and the “organic” paintings differ significantly, yet enhance and relate to each other. Both are characterized by openness to where perception leads and the recognition of the “rightness” of the picture. The work proceeds from the accumulated understanding and experience of form and color, balance and scale, which comprises the artist’s intuition. As Arden Reed mentions in the catalogue essay, “Seeing Hammersley Whole,” the “mainspring of this production has been pleasure…pleasure is discovered and proved by intuition: what ‘feels right’ or ‘feels good’ determines every mark. Corroboration lies in the viewer’s satisfaction, in the sense that the shapes could not be otherwise arranged, and that the colors belong to those shapes, although not in ways we could have predicted.”

Most of the “geometric” paintings are based on a series of lithographs completed in 1949-50 in which Hammersley worked within a nine-square grid. Predominantly black and white, each painting reflected decisions the artist makes about shape and color within the grid format. For example, in each of the nine squares, the artist decides whether or not to introduce a color and a diagonal. In the finished compositions, the underlying grid often disappears.

Hammersley creates the “geometric” paintings with a palette knife, producing a smooth and almost flawless surface, while he uses a brush for the “organics,” leaving visible brushstrokes. In contrast to the “geometrics,” the “organic” paintings employ no rules or straight lines, with curving natural forms and blending colors. The “geometric” paintings often reach a 48-inch square, while most of the “organics” are rectangular and smaller than twelve inches. The “geometric” paintings begin in the artist’s notebooks—where only a few are selected for larger canvases—while the “organics” begin directly on a canvas, as the interplay of drawn shapes call forth other shapes. When he recognizes the balance and relation of shapes as complete, he turns to color, each color determined by the preceding.

This exhibition explores the complex interactions of these three distinct but interlocking bodies of work that comprise Hammersley’s career. “Hunches, Geometrics, Organics” allows for a new appreciation of the artist’s process and an opportunity to view all the bodies of this work in one venue. It demonstrates that what unites the artist’s work across these three distinct categories and over half a century is the artist’s profound commitment to and understanding of the logic of intuition and the pleasures of painting and looking.

A full-color catalogue accompanies the exhibition and includes essays by Pomona College Professor Arden Reed and Museum Director and Professor of Art Kathleen Howe. The exhibition is curated by Kathleen Howe and Rebecca McGrew.

The Pomona College Museum of Art is located at 330 N. College Avenue, Claremont. The Museum is open to the public free of charge Tuesday through Friday, from noon to 5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. For more information, call (909) 621-8283 or visit the museum’s website at www.pomona.edu/museum.

The Pomona College Museum of Art collects, preserves, exhibits, and interprets works of art. The Museum houses a substantial permanent collection as well as serving as a gallery for the display of temporary exhibitions. Important holdings include the Kress Collection of 15th- and 16th-century Italian panel paintings; more than 5,000 examples of Pre-Columbian to 20th-century American Indian art and artifacts, including basketry, ceramics, and beadwork; and a large collection of American and European prints, drawings, and photographs, including works by Francisco de Goya, José Clemente Orozco, and Rico Lebrun.