Something is Happening Here
Something is happening here covers some twenty years of Bill Hammond’s practice as presented from the Wallace Arts Trust collection. A beginning point are interiors painted in the early 1980s. There are ungainly views, a slippery slope of sorts, where agents in the field resemble cartoons – occasionally peopled, most often objects, with an animate quality in as much as they spook. The interior is the ground for the large The Young Designers from the late 1980s, a painting on wallpaper. Domesticity is implied with the medium, two long sheets of antique wallpaper, but the setting is not clear. A dozen or so figures present themselves as oddities, holding a collective stance across a background with no horizon.
The key work in the exhibition is Watching for Buller (1993), for which Bill Hammond won the Paramount Award in the 1994 Wallace Art Awards. It developed from his participation in a government-sponsored trip, for a select group of artists, to the Auckland Islands in 1989. During the visit Hammond observed the great bird populations with a sense of loss and a realisation – imagining how the main land may have been in pre-colonial times. The bird motif has become a signature in his oeuvre, he has continued to refine and rework it for more than two decades. The spook named by this painting is Walter Lawry Buller (1838 – 1906), who was a lawyer by profession but is better remembered through his illustrated taxonomy of New Zealand birds. A History of the Birds of New Zealand describes New Zealand species within a Victorian framework of classification. Buller has since become infamous for his practice of killing native birds even when many were on the brink of extinction and in contempt of the laws protecting them.
Bill Hammond was born in 1947 in Christchurch and attended Ilam, the University of Canterbury’s Fine Arts School, from 1966 – 1969. He worked commercially in design and toy making during the 1970s. Hammond became established as a full-time artist in painting in the early 1980s. He is recognised as one of New Zealand’s leading painters with works in many of the major public and private collections. His exhibition history is extensive with numerous solo exhibitions over several decades.
Image credit: Bill Hammond, Watching For Buller, Oil on canvas, 1993. Collection of the Wallace Arts Trust