Jane Hammond


Like many contemporary artists, Jane Hammond has adopted a structure or system that might seem like a rejection of inventiveness, but that actually elaborates a rigorous defense of painting. In this exhibition Hammond came across as an archivist of diversity. Each of the nine works presented in this show is untitled and then subtitled with a string of curiosity-producing numbers that quickly reveal the artist is working with a limited set, currently 276, of found and numbered images and a restricted palette of four colors. All of Hammond’s works depart from some combination of these self-imposed limits. But Hammond distinguishes herself from others painting within predetermined constraints by the relationship between the limits she sets and the visual language that the process of painting creates.

Like a painted spill from her archive, Untitled (158, 231, 214, 244, 84, 156, 225, 64, 62, 80), 1992, represents a strange, three-performer, circuslike spectacle. Hammond has created the illusion of a stage complete with an out-of-the-tube-red curtain and a thickly painted checkered floor that appears as if she had gone through days of soul searching before settling on yellow, black, and red. Hammond’s stage seems to be a place where time and cultures meet. One of the performers in red tights, wearing a white deerskin and a headdress, holds a yellow bird while seemingly dancing within an eight-sided cage. Another, standing within a similar, pedestallike structure, is actually a sky-blue Roman sculpture adorned with a lion’s-head mask out of whose jaws peers a blue Japanese portrait. The third figure represented stands above the stage on another tubelike structure and is hidden within a Chinese puppet theater set against a lavishly painted black-blue-and-white background that creates an electromagnetic atmosphere. In another work, Untitled (185, 246, 60, 48, 155, 13, 103), 1992, a blue-and-red ballerina seems to juggle a collection of images illustrating the hand positions associated with various forms of puppetry. From the depths of this predominantly white painting appear what seem to be North Africans collecting octopi off the beach, while the puppets, their strings visible, look as if they were collaged onto the painting’s surface.

Before these paintings one is seduced into the construction of a narrative, into searching within the image for clues to string the various elements together. Can we read the collection of the helpless octopi, the tentaclelike puppets and their strings, and the juggling open-armed ballerina as a comment on power relations? Hammond provides clues to various broken narratives while speaking to the plethora of preexisting images and to the problematics of creating new ones.

All of Hammond’s images, even the various painterly drips that might show up on the surface, come exclusively from her often whimsical collection of images, images that she combines with color in endless variations. Hammond’s system calls into question art’s endless quest for the new and original. She takes refuge from this quest, rebelling against the notion that the artist is inspired, that artworks are simply the product of self-expression. As Hammond repossesses painting, her work attempts to locate meaning within her self-imposed constraints and within the constraints of the history of art.

Anthony Iannaci