Bridgeman Studio speak to artist Tom Hammick on his art practice, his new sci-fi themed series and his favourite artists
1. What is your earliest memory of an artwork and who was it by?
A book my Granny had in the attic of an American children’s book of paintings by Paul Klee. The blacks surrounding an iridescent fish from the deep. I was 2 years of and it was magical. And I remember it blowing my mind - like taking far too many magic mushrooms.
2. Where did you study?
In the halcyon days of full grants my education seemed to go on forever. I read Art History at The University of Manchester to start with in the early 80’s. (I had always wanted to be an artist but didn’t know where to start. It was a passion that had grown by writing about painting exhibitions on in London for the school magazine and through regular visits to the art department; not for any exam work, but just because time spend making an etching or attempting to paint, was for me the antidote to so much of the banality of school life.
3. What is your favourite time of day to be in your studio?
By necessity I make prints with my team in the day time for half the week in my London Studio. But I am by nature a night owl and my body clock prefers the silence and coolness of the evening and the night sky beyond. So when I paint for the other half of the week in East Sussex, I start around 8 pm and work through to the small hours.
4.Tell us about your new series Lunar Voyage, what was the inspiration behind this?
Lunar Voyage is in part an existential road journey taken into space. It had been a sequence of images kicking around in my head and on sketchbook pages for the last couple of years. I wanted to try to bring together a narrative that explored both the outsiderness of being an artist and the unique incompatibility of life on Earth. And literally leaving the world in order to look back on our planet seemed to be the only way I could investigate this sense of love and loss of ‘home’ in its broadest sense- something shared by all the early space travellers since the 60’s.
So the backdrop to the woodcuts is through my childhood passion for film and comics. I was brought up adoring Westerns as a child, and Sci-Fi has a pretty obvious connection to that genre where the frontier has just continued to expand outwards, upwards and off world. I think it is very difficult to paint now without being hugely influenced by film. It is the perfect medium for wonderment, for exploring ideas about time. And the style of particular groups of auteurs has always had a profound influence on my practice.
Hitchcock, Wenders, Malick, Kubrick, Goddard, Scott, Nolan, Powell and Pressburger to name a few off the top of my head have changed the way I look at the world, and the way I relate to the idea of the wanderer through landscape. For instance, Hitchcock’s design and minimalist vision is a useful hook for me and has helped me solve narrative problems in the work. Every frame, reduced to the barest essentials - a minimalist set conveying a sense of place, is the perfect stage for narrative and helps provide the ideas for a backbone for a figurative painting or print. I hope in these pruned down images of mine show this influence in getting down the basics for a composition.
5. How do you find your printmaking practice runs alongside your painting practice? Do you find that one inspires the other?
I love both mediums and I take turns with each. I can no longer interweave them for a few days each week as I find the languages of each are too disparate for this quick turnaround. So this series took me a year to make, non-stop. I couldn’t do anything else. And I am now just about back to painting. But printmaking feeds the painting and vice-versa.
I find an image comes to mind faster with a print, and with woodcut there is liberation with the finality of a mark made on the plate. Painting morphs and slides and blends and anything goes. It needs therefore more discipline perhaps. And printmaking is less difficult than painting because the materials have some much of their own magic that I can hitch a lift on.
6. If you could pick 5 artists, dead or alive, to have dinner with who would they be and why?
Oh God, this is difficult.. there are so many! Piero della Francesca to put a personality to the man who painted all those extraordinary paintings. To meet the man who painted the sublime and peculiar Madonna del Parto.
Uccello for the same sort of reasons. So many of his paintings are iconographic enigmas but perfect. I’d definitely would have tried to buy his St George and the Dragon from him that we now have in the National Gallery. Ditto Pisanello’s Vision of St Eustace round the corner from the Uccello.
My friend, the sublime painter Amanda Vesey. She is my Aunt and my Godmum, and we don’t see each other nearly enough - but when we do we talk painting solidly.
Guston…. he is my heavyweight barometer.
Can I have a poet/painter? Elizabeth Bishop has inspired me more than anything, in the way she is both personal and writes about the big things and she speaks pure truth to me to my core. And she was a bloody good painter.
And Velazquez… His love. He is just the best for me.
I have snuck in 6. But would you allow me to have a larger dinner party? I need to invite Goya, Gwen John, Prunella Clough, Pete Doig, Bonnard, Matisse, Marsden Hartley, Phoebe Unwin, Susie Hamilton David Milne, Francis Bacon, Hiroshige and Degas. Gosh, what a mix!
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Tom Hammick's exhibition Lunography will be showing at the Flowers Gallery in New York from 24 October — 18 December 2017