Just In: Remarkable Painting by Frederick Hammersley

August 23, 2017

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) is delighted to present a remarkable work by celebrated artist Frederick Hammersley, which will be available in our October 22, 2017 Modern Art & Design Auction. Created in 1972 at the height of his career, Hammersley’s oil on linen painting, On and Of, is an excellent example of the Hard Edge idiom, which Hammersley helped define.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Frederick Hammersley, On and Of, 1972
October 22, 2017 Modern Art & Design Auction

One of the original “Four Abstract Classicists,” who exhibited a clutch of groundbreaking geometric abstractions in the eponymous 1959 exhibition in Los Angeles, Hammersley divided his works into three distinct categories: “hunches,” “geometrics,” and “organics.” Speaking of his geometric abstractions in 1962 Hammersley laid out what he considered a recurrent theme in his work: “It is the creating of a harmony of opposites,” he said. “But most important, the interaction of these opposites creates a third thing, outside the identity of the shapes themselves.” This third thing, he explained, is not something that is easily articulated, but undoubtedly felt: “I know that an area of quiet can suggest action, and an active shapes group can suggest repose. We all understand, for example, the remark the famous director made to an actress when he said ‘Don’t just do something, stand there.’” That Hammersley would speak of his paintings as dealing in the je ne sais quoi comes as no surprise, given that his practice was largely rooted in the intuitive.

Hammersley’s geometric “hunch” and “organic” paintings, which he created with a palette knife, threw rules to the wind, embracing chance by blending color directly on the canvas and intuitively following a series of curved lines. These works found their nascence in a solitary shape that would incrementally evolve with the addition of instinctual elements. “The structure making is of prime importance,” Hammersley once stressed. “Until this is right nothing further can be done. After the picture works in line the shapes ‘become’ colors. I answer the hunch as it comes.”

Starting in the late 1950s Hammersley shifted to the creation of works consisting almost entirely of circles and straight lines, both of which evolved more directly in response to the shape of a canvas. It is this body of geometric, Hard Edge work that is most often associated with the artist, who would pursue this idiom throughout the rest of his career. Like the artist’s earlier works, these pieces are grounded in the intuitive, but the process behind Hammersley’s “geometrics,” by contrast, was rigorously systematic. Paintings, such as Hammersley’s 1972 On and Of, would begin as rhythmically orchestrated studies in sketchbooks. In these studies Hammersley explored the interactions between shape and color on geometric grids that ultimately plotted out their arrangements for the canvas. “At first I would paint a shape that I would ‘see’ there,” Hammersley once noted. “That one colored shape in that canvas would work, or fit,” he continued. “The next shape would come from the feeling of the first plus the canvas. This process would continue until the last shape completed the picture.” It is in this dynamic, a “harmony of opposites,” between the intuitive and the systematic that ultimately lends an element of exuberance to the precise, economical style of Hammersley’s later works, which he created from the 1970s on. In On and Of we find an excellent expression of this conceit, delicately balancing the severity of a black-and-white palette coupled with the Hard Edge sensibility that has come to be shorthand for Hammersley’s oeuvre.

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Lot Information:

Lot 190
Frederick Hammersley
On and Of
#4, 1972
Oil on linen
Canvas: 23.875″ x 23.75″; Frame: 24.75″ x 24.625″
Retains Barbara Mathes Gallery label and artist’s label verso
Provenance: Nicholas Wilder, Los Angeles, California; Private Collection, New York, New York; Private Collection, Kentfield, California
Estimate: $35,000-$55,000
October 22, 2017 Modern Art & Design Auction

Hammersley, Frederick. “About My Paintings.” Frederick Hammersley Foundation. 1962. 18 July 2017.

Hammersley, Frederick. “Frederick Hammersley.” Louis Stern Fine Arts, 2017. 18 July 2017.

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