New York

Tom Hammick, Sky Atlas, 2017, reduction woodcut, 80 3/4 x 47 3/4".

Tom Hammick, Sky Atlas, 2017, reduction woodcut, 80 3/4 x 47 3/4".

Tom Hammick

Flowers Gallery

Tom Hammick, Sky Atlas, 2017, reduction woodcut, 80 3/4 x 47 3/4".

In a series of seventeen exquisitely crafted, visionary woodcuts (all works 2017), Tom Hammick took us on a “Lunar Voyage”—that is, on an artistic adventure to the moon. As French scholars Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant wrote in their 1969 Dictionary of Symbols, the moon is “a cosmic symbol throughout every age, from time immemorial to the present, and common to every culture,” as well as an emblem of “dreams and the Unconscious as properties of darkness.” Darkness abounds in Hammick’s dreamscapes, most prominently in Blackout, with its sweeping night sky and solitary figure, whose opaque silhouette is imprinted on the lesser blackness of the moonless sky, where a sprinkling of stars adds touches of light. It is an image of mute despair and reverent awe, the anonymous human figure humbled by the infinite sky, almost disappearing into the oblivion.

All of Hammick’s marvelous images—with the exception of Sleeper, a picture of the voyager after as he dreams of his home on the earth, floating beyond it as though unable to come down from the “high” of his voyage—convey what the theologian Rudolf Otto famously called a numinous experience, bringing with it a sense of the mysterium tremendum. Hammick’s pictures also afford a sense of what nineteenth-century British painter and critic Roger Fry called “cosmic emotion”; he thought abstract art, at its best, could arouse this sensibility. However imagistic, Hammick’s pictures are equally and ingeniously abstract. Lunography, though subtle, made this clear. A large circle resembling a map of the earth appears on a black field; a tiny rocket—a delicious gesture of abstract color—appears below. In this balancing act, representative of Piet Mondrian’s “dynamic equilibrium,” the disproportionate objects become expressively equivalent to each other, even strangely complementary, for the vibrant rocket seems to possess the energy the earth lacks. This doubling of representation and abstraction gives Hammick’s pictures an extra aesthetic shock, to borrow the concept of art historian Ananda Coomaraswamy.

Hammick is, in effect, a worshipper in the cathedral of cosmic space. Passing a Cloud Island, with its luscious vegetation and homey abode, WE JOURNEY(ed) TO THE MOON, as the words on several of Hammick’s rockets read. Once landed, we looked back at the earth, a bluish cloud in Fly By, and sometimes at a rocket leaving a turquoise wake, as in Sky Atlas. Hammick is a master of color, as his vivid space shuttles make clear, but his shapes—the more or less rectilinear rocket and the round earth and moon—are in dramatic contrast. One might say that Hammick is an ironical dialectician: He persuades incommensurate forms to relate but not integrate, as though magnetically attracted to each other but unable to reconcile. The images in this show seemed to posit that Freud was right when he said that making art is magical thinking—as dreams are—and that art is the last place where the omnipotence of thought holds sway.

Donald Kuspit