Europeans first imagined New Zealand as “a garden and a pasture in which the best elements of British society might grow into an ideal nation”... When the smoke of the colonists’ fires cleared at the end of the 19th century, New Zealand had become a different country. Māori had lost their most precious life-support system. Only in the hilliest places did the forest still come down to the sea. Huge slices of the ancient ecosystem were missing, evicted and extinguished. Our histories, however, have had neither the sense of place nor ecological consciousness to explain what has happened.
“Bill Hammond is long, lithe and tired, and was born several years ago. Is currently pursuing a Fine Arts course and trying hard to catch up. He is deeply interested in the aesthetic implications of sleep, sports the Rat-Chewed Look in coiffures for ’68, and dreams about blind mice in bikinis. He has never been known to sing outside the confines of his bedroom. Shows a marked but languid preference for the subtle textural nuances and dynamic shadings of washboard, cowbell, woodblocks, claves, cymbal, spoons, thimbles, tambourine, and the palms of the hands in percussive contact.”
Romantic notions of gothic leanings, the legacy of Tony Fomison, devotion to rock sub-genres and an eye to the past are familiar and sound reasons to group Tony de Lautour, Jason Greig and Bill Hammond together in one exhibition, but De Lautour / Greig / Hammond is to feature new and recent work. Could all this change? What nuances will be developed or abandoned? Will rich veins be further mined? We can only speculate and accept that even the artists concerned can't answer these questions. For the artist, every work is a new endeavour, a new beginning. What may appear to the public, the critic or the art historian as a smooth, seamless flow of images is for them an unpredictable process where the only boundaries are those that they choose to invent.
Rock drummers and guitarists, classical musicians, DJs and flamboyant lead singers have made regular appearances in Bill’s work over the years. They are often accompanied by song titles and lyrics – The Tattooed Bride, The Look of Love, Love Will Tear Us Apart, Radio On, All Shook Up, Not Fade Away, Lose This Skin and You Make My Heart Sing. One of Bill’s early exhibitions at the Brooke Gifford Gallery in central Christchurch was titled Lines from Songs, in which he showed paintings that specifically referenced his favourite songs alongside set designs for The South Island (A Rock Opera) in four acts. The title for this painting, Radio On, is a lyric taken from one of the most iconic, upbeat rockin’ anthems of the 1970s by Jonathan Richmond and the Modern Lovers.
The chorus, simply “radio on”, is one that all can sing along to – and indeed in the painting the freakish characters doing a duet, with their volcano mouths and noses, are in full voice and raising the roof: And I say roadrunner once / Roadrunner twice / I’m in love with rock & roll and I’ll be out all night … I’m in love with the radio on.
Bill Hammond: Playing the Drums (3 August 2019 – 19 January 2020)
“It’s bird land. You feel like a time-traveller, as if you have just stumbled upon it – primeval forests, rātās like Walt Disney would make. It’s a beautiful place, but it’s also full of ghosts, shipwrecks, death…” —Bill Hammond
Bill Hammond sailed to the remote Auckland Islands, south of Aotearoa New Zealand towards Antarctica, in 1989. Its landscape made a profound impression on him. Lined up on cliffs, staring out at the ocean, the birds of the Auckland Islands were unafraid of people, and Hammond imagined that Aotearoa looked very similar before human habitation. Different stories and timeframes and images collide in his canvasses as if in a dream, or as if fragments of consciousness were projected on to a screen. “I don’t have a tight brief”, he says. “I fumble around history, picking up bits and pieces.”
Gertrude Demain Hammond was a prolific London illustrator who was also active in exhibiting her watercolours. A Reading from Plato was shown at the Royal Academy in London in 1903 before coming to Christchurch for the 1906–07 New Zealand International Exhibition. There it was purchased by the avid local art collector James Jamieson, who with his brother William, ran one of the city’s largest construction companies.
Following his death in 1927, James’s family presented many works of art from his collection to become part of the Robert McDougall Art Gallery’s founding collection, which at its opening in 1932 consisted of 160 paintings and sculptures.
(Treasury: A Generous Legacy 18 December 2015 – 27 November 2016)