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FREDERICK HAMMERSLEY: PAINTINGS
Sarah Deats  2006

Opposites attract Frederick Hammersley. He speaks of a moment, much earlier in his life, when he realized that everything around him had to do with what he calls “the marriage of opposites.” Far more than a passing philosophical fancy, this observation was to provide the basis for an approach to painting in which contrasting colors and mirror-image or interlaced geometric forms lead the viewer to examine the way opposites interact. 

Hammersley is quick to point out that this approach is not an intellectual one. Rather, intuition determines the entire content of his paintings. Trained in the classical tradition, Hammersley’s mastery of drawing and eye for color are so developed that they appear instinctive, and he notes that technical considerations rarely play a conscious role in making a painting. He describes the process as a series of discoveries about what is “right” for the next step. Until he can see the next color, the next shape, he waits. When the right color/form appears with certainty in his mind’s eye, down it goes on the canvas. After that, changes are rarely necessary.

One is reminded of Charlie Parker’s admonition: “First master your instrument. Then forget all that **** and just play.” Hammersley’s virtuosity as a draftsman and colorist allow him to approach painting with a sense of joy and playfulness that is palpable to the viewer of his work. Colors talk back to each other; forms lead the viewer’s eye on a merry chase. His whimsical titles ("Likewise," "All in Favor," "Company Policy," etc.) reinforce the sense that serious work need not be ponderous, preachy or self-consciously intellectual.

This is not to say that Hammersley’s paintings lack emotional depth. On the contrary, these seemingly simple, direct geometric forms and straightforward colors carry a clear sense of emotional intensity to the viewer, inspiring a California critic to refer to Hammersley’s hard edge paintings as “emotional works that wear the clothes of classical restraint.”

Hammersley’s work has been exhibited throughout the United States (including the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney in New York, and the Corcoran in Washington DC); his education included the Jepson Art School and Chouinard in Los Angles, and the Ecole des Beaux Arts  in Paris. His distinguished teaching career included Jepson, Chouinard, Pomona College and the University of New Mexico. A self-described “Westerner by birth and by choice,” he currently resides in Albuquerque.

Work in the upcoming exhibition at Charlotte Jackson Fine Art will include examples of Hammersley’s hard edge paintings (familiar to those who saw his work in the 2001 SITE Santa Fe biennial, curated by Dave Hickey) and his “organic” paintings, which feature non-geometric (“biomorphic”) shapes and more complex colors.