Bill Hammond

Aotearoa New Zealand, b.1947, d.2021

Shag Pile

  • 1994
  • Acrylic on fabric wallpaper
  • Purchased with the assistance of the Christchurch Art Gallery Trust and the Friends of the Christchurch Art Gallery, 2004/5
  • 1370 x 1320mm
  • 2004/45

Writing in 1770 from on board the ship Endeavour, anchored 400 metres off the Marlborough coast, botanist Joseph Banks described the dawn chorus of Aotearoa as a “melodious wild musick” that started an hour or two after midnight and lasted until sunrise. It’s an image far removed from this limp, silent assembly-line of shags, which have been killed, identified and readied for stuffing to satisfy the insatiable appetites of Victorian collectors a world away. Birds often stand in for nature in Bill Hammond’s paintings. Here, their piled-up bodies bear witness to the waves of extinction that have followed human occupation here over the last 650 years – and to our willingness to destroy what we most admire.

(Absence, May 2023)

Exhibition History

earlier labels about this work
  • Wunderbox, 28 November 2008 - 15 February 2009

    Bill Hammond led one of the most influential tendencies in New Zealand painting of the late 1990s – Post-colonial Gothic. Shag Pile is one of his many paintings inspired by nineteenth-century campaigns to catalogue New Zealand’s dwindling native species, in particular the efforts of Walter Lowry Buller. The contradictions of Buller’s character – a recorder and chronicler of birds who killed and stuffed many – have made him a figure of fascination not only for Hammond but also for sculptor Warren Viscoe and playwright Nick Drake. In Shag Pile, Buller’s campaign plays out like a bad dream projected on the patterned walls of a claustrophobic Victorian parlour, where New Zealand spotted shags are heaped, laid out for processing, and sealed under bell jars.

  • An eerie assembly of shags, some shown in profile, others draped lifelessly over tables, provides grim contrast to the lustrous fabric wallpaper on which it is painted in Bill Hammond's Shag Pile. Cluttered with teetering tables, dripping floorboards and sinister pot plants, the anxious and oppressive interior makes reference to the work of the noted New Zealand ornithologist (and notorious 'bird stuffer') Sir Walter Lawry Buller (1838-1906). Characteristically, Hammond has combined shifting ground lines and uncertain perspectives to create a work that is both discordant and hauntingly beautiful.

    Bill Hammond was born in Christchurch in 1947. He studied at the University of Canterbury's School of Fine Arts between 1966 and 1968. Since his first solo exhibition in 1979, Hammond has exhibited regularly throughout New Zealand. He received the James Wallace Award in 1993 and in the following year won the Premier Award in the Visa Gold Art Award. His paintings are held in private and public collections throughout New Zealand. (2006)