Katherine Locke talks to Tom Hammick
As a teenager, Tom Hammick was discouraged from becoming an artist. ‘Even though we were surrounded by art at home’, he says. Both his parents collected Twentieth Century Modern British painters, such as Ben Nicholson and Julian Trevelyan and it was the latter’s work that really struck a chord with Tom when he was young. ‘It was a painting Trevelyan made in his later life, after he had a stroke’, says Tom, ‘It is a difficult painting that defies logic, as it had a solid green sky. As a child, it made perfect sense to me. It was around then that I started to understand how colour can convey emotion’.
Tom was taken to galleries regularly as a child. ‘Cathy Lee (Laurie Lee’s wife), was my God Mother and she would take me to The National Gallery every holiday. As would my Mum. I loved it’. Despite this artistic environment, Tom’s parents with his best interests at heart thought it would be ‘crazy to be a painter’, so he went to study Art History at Manchester University. ‘It was a fabulous training in many ways’, says Tom, ‘I carry many paintings in my head and have a good grasp of the chronology of art’. However, he was constantly drawing in lectures and his passion for making, as well as understanding, work did not diminish.
‘A lot of artistic kids from my generation were sent on the grand tour to Florence or Venice to study paining’, he says, ‘I really didn’t want to do that. It is great for being taught how to make lovely marks on paper, but it doesn’t teach you how to look’. Instead, after university, he took a very different direction and trained as a stonemason. ‘I was fortunate enough to work for St Blaise and with the late Ian Constantinides, arguably one of the most innovative figures in British architectural conservation’ he says. During this time, Tom lived in Powerstock with the painters David Kennard and Tom Rickman and remembers ‘an acute feeling of wonderment at the landscape’. He was painting then, but describes his work as ‘appalling clunky pictures of people on the beach’.
‘I wasn’t very happy’, he says, ‘I was restless, and so decided to go to Camberwell to study fine art. This is when everything changed for me’. He describes his time at Camberwell as ‘heaven—I felt as though I had found meaning in my life’. He worked ‘his socks off’—determined to make the most of every moment. ‘I needed to learn a kind of truth in painting’, he says, ‘It was a rigorous training both intellectually and practically’.
However, it was a difficult time to be a painter. ‘In the late 1980’s painting became unfashionable’, says Tom, ‘the YBA’s (Young British Artists, such as Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst) were in the ascendency and figurative painters felt very out of step’. It didn’t deter Tom though, if anything it made him more determined to follow his own path. It is a tactic that has proved beneficial, as his quiet contemplative work has stood the test of time. He has shown all over the world and played a part in many major collections, including at The V&A, the British Museum and Bibliotheque National de France. He is also a skilled printmaker and says that both mediums hold equal importance for him in his practice, ‘each process feeds the other’, he says. He is fully accomplished in both disciplines and is unable to imagine working in one without the other.
Now based in East Sussex, Tom is a Senior Lecturer in Fine Art, Painting and Printmaking at the University of Brighton. His work has attracted much critical acclaim and has been described by Julian Bell as having the ‘negative virtue of unpretentiousness’ with his delight in his materials all apparent. The work is often narrative—a glimpse into a strange world as different as it is recognisable. He has been compared to Matisse and Bonnard in his use of block colour and pattern.
His latest collaboration is a book with Julian Bell, entitled Wall, Window, World. It is the result of many years conversation the pair have enjoyed about art and the process of painting. ‘I first met Julian in the local pub’, recalls Tom. ‘I was squatting in a studio near Lewes, when I walked into the local and saw a man reading a book by Peter Schjeldahl. I arrogantly didn’t think anyone else had heard of Schjeldahl (a leading art critic for the New Yorker and the Village Voice), so I marched straight up and said “I’ve got that book”, it was the beginning of a long friendship’. Tom describes Bell as ‘having an amazing brainbox’.
Julian Bell is a respected painter in his own right and writes extensively about art. He is the grandson of Vanessa Bell. Wall, Window, World explores contemporary debates around painting using Tom’s work as the context. There are over 120 colour images in this beautifully presented book. Bell’s writing perfectly complements Tom’s work in its quite assertiveness—confidence without a trace of brashness. A surety of subject that is compelling. The book includes a chapter on paint and print that fully describes Tom’s relationship with both.
Tom’s work is often inspired by the landscape in which he lives. Mostly South East England, but also Nova Scotia and Newfoundland in Canada, where he has spent time working, both as a painter and as a lecturer. The work is also informed by his family. ‘Art is a lonely business’, he says, ‘my wife and three children feature frequently. The importance of family and place are reoccurring themes’.
The book argues that Tom’s work ‘constitutes one of the richest imaginative achievements in late 20th and early 21st century British art’. Tom has realised a rich body of work that is fully explored by Julian Bell. It is a book that will appeal to students, collectors or anyone interested in the practice of painting.
Tom describes how as an artist one tries to be a barometer on the world. ‘Essentially’, he says ‘the human condition is about love and loss, where and how we live, and the state we are in’.
20 June – 25 July Tom Hammick ‘The Trajectory of a Romantic’ Opening of his exhibition tour, coinciding with the release of a new monograph of the artist’s paintings featuring text from Julian Bell. Allsop Gallery, Bridport Arts Centre. 01308 424204. www.bridport-arts.com.
Tom Hammick will also be exhibiting at Sladers Yard in Autumn 2016.
Wall, Window, World
will available on 28.06.2015
Published by Lund Humphries Publishers Ltd ISBN: 9781848221659