The creative landscape is continually evolving, as artists respond to new developments across art and technology. Celebrating this, the ING Discerning Eye exhibition offers a platform for practitioners working across a range of disciplines. British printmaker and 2017 ING Discerning Eye exhibitor Tom Hammick (b. 1963) discusses his creative process, shedding light on his inspiration and the importance of ING’s initiative for both emerging and established talent.
A: Printmaking is a time-honoured technique that is continually evolving. How important is this technique in the 21st century, and how do digital platforms enable a different kind of working?
TH: Print is a hub so to speak, where artists, printmakers and technicians meet to make work. This happens both physically in the studio and through the ether of working collaboratively online, through iMessages, emails and FaceTime! Print is a very contemporary working practice and when I am on the hoof – like writing this on a plane – I frequently communicate with my team in real time. We have worked out codes for quite sophisticated layering, so we can convey the subtleties of hue and colour by adhering to two identical handmade colour charts, one in my pocket matched to the larger one in the print studio.
This process combined with photographs of sketch-book drawings, scanned imagery sent as files for laser-cutting and drawings scanned and blown up onto plates, all make this a 21st century medium, as if we were working in adjacent studios in the same building. And it is the perfect antidote to the “alone-time” I spend in the studio painting, which in these sped-up times, seems more and more anachronistic. So, print perfectly reflects how we make work collaboratively today.
It’s one of many ways of communicating what it’s like to be human – sharing love and loss – alongside painting; sculpture; making films; writing and acting; singing; composing music and opera; writing poetry and novels; dancing. It’s a way of communicating a sense of wonder and asking questions about how we live and where we are going. I adore the zen-like process that gives some sort of order to chaos; the smells of ink, the magic of an image appearing through the press.
A: What inspired you to choose printmaking?
TH:Well it chose me! Along with drawing and painting. I was painting at Camberwell back in the 1980s, and as part of the brilliant course I was lucky enough to be on, we could spend a day a week on the top floor of the building in the print studio. I loved it the first moment I went in the litho room. It brought me some semblance of order and rules away from the seat-of-your-pants chaos and fear of the painting studio.
A: Your pieces are influenced by a range of sources, from Japanese woodblock to Northern European Romantic painting and contemporary cinema. How do your series combine these styles?
TH:Alex Katz frequently writes and talks about style, and I agree with him in many ways. Style for me comes not only from my own “handwriting” and the way I distribute paint and ink on a surface, but from the way I can use the medium – in this case print – to flatten out space and form and colour. So much editing is achieved just by choosing the medium.
Woodcutting – the process I seem to be predominately concerned with – drastically reduces one’s options. I then work within that limited framework, which is what Japanese artists have done so well for centuries. You learn to savour and celebrate the language that is specific to the chosen medium – whether minimal or detailed.
Source materials for inspiration come from wider culture. Film seems to be the most intoxicating, with so much potential; as is opera, theatre, poetry and music. Sometimes I find an image in a newspaper that conjures up a whole new line of enquiry, and I need to build it into a painting or print. Life, like art is full of ideas.
A: How does your work reinvent historical methods to connect with contemporary themes, such as isolation and disconnection?
TH: Using metaphor. I think painter and printmaker Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525-1569) dealt in metaphor in such a subtle way, as did Jacob Van Ruisdael in his lovely lonely landscapes. Bruegel’s painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (c. 1555) almost as an aside, splashing into the sea (we presume from a great height) as a ship sails by is a perfect metaphor for hubris isn’t it? Or Casper David Friedrich’s 21st century filmic use of rukenfigure – depicting a figure from behind – seems straight out of a Wim Wenders movie. It is used to emphasise the isolation of the individual in the same way that a totemic sculpture by Anthony Gormley looking out to sea breaks one’s heart.
I am influenced by the postmodern push and pull of an image stacked with levels of narrative, stretching out across the frame. The way one can use very simple compositional devices of figure and ground relationships to emphasise aloneness and disconnect hasn’t changed much.
A: Your works were selected for the 2017 ING Discerning Eye exhibition. What did this mean for your career?
TH:It was an honour to be selected by a juror for this renowned competition. I did once get in also many, many years ago – when I was just out of art school, and this was very helpful as someone living in total penury. Every little break like that kept one going with some hope. It was a very important piece in the stepping stones to becoming self-sufficient as an artist.
A: How important are initiatives such as ING Discerning Eye for emerging printmakers?
TH: I’d say very important for all emerging artists. It is so tough being an artist – and even more so that art is being taken from state education. Anything like this competition – so broad-minded and eclectic – enables little miracles of art conjured from adversity to be seen.
ING Discerning Eye, an exhibition of small works selected by prominent figures in the art world, is currently calling for entries. Pre-register by 28 August 2018, 5pm here or at your chosen submission point. The exhibition will run from 15-25 November 2018 at Mall Galleries, London.
1. Tom Hammick, Cloud Island, 2017, reduction woodcut, ©Tom Hammick, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery London and New York, all rights reserved Bridgeman Images, 2017.