Los Angeles

Frederick Hammersley

LA Louver

Frederick Hammersley’s Option open, 2000–2002, is a small oil-on-linen painting of flatly brushstroked, vibrant, curvilinear sea anemone– and coral-like shapes that suggest hues and forms undulating into and out of one another. The thing floats within its frame, whose exterior is faux-wormholed wood, brusquely whitewashed and dimpled repeatedly along its inner edge. The painting alone makes much of Monique Prieto redundant, while the frame recalls a Joseph Cornell–meets–Vincent Fecteau sculptural device. Together, both parts ask (without the Frank Stella bombast) that deciding between sculpture and painting remain optional, open.

“If I had asked . . . what are we going to talk about? what is the subject today? the answer would have come very quickly: about Frederick Hammersley, or about the paintings of Frederick Hammersley. But will the question have been about whom or about what? We always pretend to know what a corpus is all about.” I rewrite a bit of Derrida to try to pose some questions about what to do with this man and his work. Hammersley refers to the part of his corpus presented here as “organic abstract paintings” in part to mark their difference from his hard-edge abstractions, which negotiate a cheerful territory somewhere between Ellsworth Kelly and John McLaughlin. Apparently Hammersley completes each work with a title from a list he’s kept for many years, and thinks of this element as (again, according to the press release) an “opening wedge to get into the painting.” It’s a somewhat corny idea, and the awkward punniness of the linguistic elements would seem to ironize any seamless seeming of word to image, referent to nonrepresentation. But the result isn’t corny, at least no more corny than the critics’ responses, which invoke or allude to “biomorphism” in descriptions of these paintings’ forms and content. Exactly what “bio” would that be?

People talk about the arc of a career, but what is the shape of a life, and how does it relate to the proper name as it encounters, alone on the shore, the waves of history, fame’s salty arrival, departure, futurity? Is it possible that the biological forms, if that is what they are, are a way of figuring the autobiographical? In many of the most prepossessing pieces, the scratched appearance, in cursive, of Hammersley’s signature and the date, causes a noteworthy event and mark of painting, the signature merging with the paint’s color—present, absenting, damascened. In Pleasant tense, the inscription F. HAMMERSLEY, #1 1996, quietly perservering, centers the entire framed, painted affair in white; it appears to have been written (painted?) with a sharp implement, perhaps the end of a palette knife. In On time, 2001, more than a few of the “edges” look fuzzy: The painting’s ground (linen stretched on Masonite) shows through where the harlequin parts have met—a structural effect echoed in the thin border of Masonite around the painting’s sides. F. HAMMERSLEY, 2001 enlivens its fuschia part. In Hammersleys, the fissure/border relationship and the name refer to one another, signing the negotiation of the boundaries between artist, artistic persona, and art.

Why should there be any more security in a confrontation with the signature—as if I knew what it meant or to what it might refer!—than in a reckoning with the nonrepresentational forms? Hammersley would seem to be a case study of a minor discourse burrowing its way out of the historically sanctioned discourse of others, Miró and Arp, for example. The pleasure is intense, if unplaceable. One anagrammatic organic abstraction of F. Hammersley is AM FRESHLY ME.

Bruce Hainley