Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Why I like Bill Hammond...

Hello again...today's post was supposed to be about my top ten classical composers and works. I'm very close to finalising my list, but not quite there, so I'll delve a little deeper into one of my favourite artists from an earlier post.

Bill Hammond took as his motif Buller’s birds for a substantial period of his career. The Victorian ornithologist Walter Buller documented New Zealand’s birdlife in a beautifully illustrated book. He viewed native birds as being on the verge of extinction and saw no irony in encouraging the large scale destruction of the birds on which his own success was based. Like many Victorians of his time, he continued to collect specimens for his own research.

Hammond looks at the idea that man sought to civilize a wilderness, when in fact he was destroying it. So, in some paintings you see a string quartet playing against a vast backdrop of turmoil.

Birds in all cultures across time feature in creation myths, sagas, parables, liturgies and fairy tales. They have come to represent among many things, the realm of the spirit world. They are harbingers of both fortune and evil, and in dream mythology they represent the personality of the dreamer.

Hammond's hybrid bird, horse, human and serpent figures change and morph before our eyes. Egyptian-looking, always in profile, theoretically capable of flight but never flying, they are meticulously and disturbingly recorded. They stand in a denuded, but beautiful, landscape.

His version of Horus, Lord of the skies in Assyrian/Egyptian legend, is in fact the extinct giant New Zealand eagle. Narrative stone bas-reliefs from Nimrud, in particular Protective Spirit in Sacred Tree 875-860 BC, depicting a winged eagle-headed magical figure, inform these paintings along with burial sites, rock drawings, moa in pre-historic New Zealand (prey for the giant eagle), and the shape of the landscape in and around Banks Peninsula.

Hammond’s paintings show a collapse of foreground and background that provides a sense of infinite space in the art of traditional Chinese painting and Ukiyo-e. Often reminiscent of Italian Renaissance painting and tapestries, Hammond’s compositions combine a graphic ability with delicate decorative qualities. Daubed backgrounds overrun with trails of dribbling paint, patinas of embellishment, reminiscent of the intricate textiles of the Middle East and Asia.

I love the vast sweep of events unfolding in his paintings and the sense of foreboding. There's many stories waiting to be told of mythic proportions about these works and for that reason you will never tire of them. That has to be a defining characteristic of the very greatest works of art.

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