Frederick Hammersley

Frederick Hammersley’s Hunches

Around 2000, the year of the Dave Hickey biennial at SITE Santa Fe, Conrad bought a lithograph by Frederick Hammersley of a light switch, in a handmade frame also by the artist. The switch is white and an identical black ground offsets the shape between green stripes at both edges. The artist wrote lightswitch 7 and the numbers 88 in pencil. I think Conrad got it at the first Art Santa Fe because it was absolutely the biennial year in which Hickey hung a quartet of Hammersleys around a big wide open door frame. Ticking whitely along to the left were Josiah McIlhenys homage to Adolf Loos of blown glass (white) vessels. It was a summer when you could see white a new way and also the geometry of Hammersleys compositions. I go to look at ours, white green black inside a frame that is the color of a darkening ivory gone gray. I have always loved the piece though at times like when our dog pinked the wall after I dosed her against chocolate, we had to move it right away, because it wanted quite simply a background with no surface interference. Ive heard Hammersleys style called “uncanny” hard-edge. Meaning that it grocked no rulers but he made these edges with a palette-knife, so that what appears identical is actually exquisitely crafted.

Frederick Hammersley died May 31st, reported his friend and dealer Charlotte Jackson, in Albuquerque, where he had lived, taught painting, palette-knifed edges and so on for 41 years. He was 90. As a young artist he lived in Claremont, where he met Karl Benjamin. The 1959 California show (“Four Abstract Classicists”–Karl Benjaim, Loiser Feitelson, and McCracken)   introduced him as a “hard-edge painter” for  the “hunch” paintings (1953-59) that he described in the 1959 show catalog as born of intuition.  “It seems to be a process of responding or reacting to a particular canvas,” he said. “At first I would paint a shape that I would see there… The next shape would come from the feeling of the first plus the canvas.”

Hammersley’s work is in museum collections including Buffalos Albright-Knox, under Louis Grachos, as well as New Mexico Museum of Art, Albuquerque Museum, Roswell Museum, Jonson Gallery and others. His memorial will be held at UNM Alumni Chapel on June 20th at 1 p.m.

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