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Hammond, Bill

Category: Artist and sculptor


William (Bill) Hammond (born Christchurch, 1947) is a New Zealand artist.

Hammond attended the School of Fine Arts at the University of Canterbury from 1966 to 1969, and has worked as a full-time painter since 1981 (in between times working as a toymaker). His paintings feature two common themes - reference to popular music (often in the form of the liberal use of quoted lyrics within the structure of the paintings), and “gaunt creatures with avian heads and human limbs”. Hammond's canvases make liberal use of the flow of paint, with rivulets of colours running vertically down the backgrounds.   They are absolutely full of symbolic references.

I had a suspicion when I read the Wikipedia entry for Bill Hammond that there was a sort of 'official story' that had been concocted to explain his paintings and choice of subject matter, simply because it is almost impossible to explain his paintings unless you are well versed in symbolism... For example, the official line goes something like this..

Hammond’s work tackles social and environmental issues, conveying messages about humanity and its status as an endangered species.  Hammond has looked back into New Zealand’s environmental history for his subject matter, drawing inspiration from the studies and attitudes of Sir Walter Buller. The Buller paintings reveal some of the ways in which birds have been forced to relate to us. Hammond has read widely on the practices of Victorian ornithology. Walter Buller’s ‘A History of the Birds of New Zealand’ with illustrations by John G. Keulemans, provided a source of inspiration for some of these paintings”

But perhaps we can read something a bit more profound in this message.  Buller believed that the native people, plants and birds of New Zealand would inevitably be rendered extinct by European colonists. So the spirituality of the Maoris – the bird – was being extinguished by the colonists.  The Maoris used the kahuna system.  This, I think comes closer to his real driver ....

“the vulnerability of life in a precarious world, and the complex relationships between Maori, Europeans and nature are expressed through Hammond’s graphic work”.

It may also help to know that Hammond is influenced by  ancient Assyrian and Egyptian art,  traditional Chinese painting and Ukiyo-e Japanese [shinto] woodblock prints.

Hammond’s Ancestors paintings are influenced by the Maori mythology of Tane, god of the forest and all creatures, and ancestor of both human beings and birds. Hammond’s version of the Egyptian god Horus is the extinct giant New Zealand eagle.  The paintings also draw on narrative stone bas-reliefs from Nimrud, in particular Protective Spirit in Sacred Tree (875-860 BCE), depicting a winged eagle-headed magical figure, along with burial sites, rock drawings, and the moa in prehistoric New Zealand (prey for the giant eagle).

Many of his most spiritually inspired paintings derive from a trip to the Auckland Islands in 1991. The islands opened his eyes to the astonishing beauty of the land before human occupation, when bird and wildlife were abundant and life had a natural harmony. He says of that visit: ‘I saw a New Zealand before there were men, women, dogs and possums. When you see it without the people, you know that the soulful, beautiful thing about New Zealand is the land.

So his inspiration is nature – communing with nature.

Observations

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