Focus on Tom Hammick
Updated: Aug 13
In this article we look at the work of London based, award winning painter/printmaker, Tom Hammick. We look at two recent exhibitions of his work and then look back at some previous exhibitions, individual works and poetry collaborations to explore further the inspiration for his work.
A bit of background
As Julian Bell wrote in Wall Window World, his book on Tom Hammick:
The world is always more than you can see
This is an apt description of Tom Hammick’s paintings and prints, they are bold and joyful but at the same time they look at subjects which could be seen as tender or anxious.
After an art history degree from Manchester University, Tom Hammick studied fine art at Camberwell in the late 80’s.
It was the time of the YBA’s and the newly opened Saatchi Gallery,
But at Camberwell, they still taught a very British style of figurative painting as set out by Coldstream in the 40’s and Euan Uglow, in the 60’s
At this time Tom was also influenced by Matisse (for his use of color and textile detail).
There are seemingly many conflicts in his early art learning and career, not least when he was at Eton.
He called ‘lefty Tom’ for being the only Guardian reader, and contributed a regular gallery review column for the school paper, at that time edited by one Boris Johnson.
Just before completing his degree, Tom traveled to Nova Scotia on an exchange to study art for four months, this would provide input for future works in the years to follow, as well as many other trips to the region.
Tom Hammick settled in East Sussex to raise his family, but he is now based in London where he has two studios for painting and printmaking.
Like many painter/printmakers the two mediums feed off each other as subjects painted, subsequently become prints, and vice versa.
The prints are mostly woodcuts and etchings, and Tom Hammick likes to challenge himself and take risks.
Reduction woodcuts are a good example of this.
Rather than create an edition of multicolor prints from multiple reusable blocks, one for each color, the the artist cuts away in stages from a single block, printing a layer of color each time along the whole edition.
In this process your keep narrowing your options and there is no going back.
Similarly with etchings and dry points, Tom adds other techniques, such as chin colle, aquatint, roulette, etc
In this way he can achieve variable edition where each print in the edition is different from the others, in some cases very different.
It is no surprise that Tom Hammick has won many awards for his original printmaking, including the V&A Prize at the International print biennale, in 2016.
Tom has been artist in residence at both the ENO and Glyndebourne, for whom he created a series of woodcuts for each of their operas in their 75th anniversary year in 2009.
The print Walter in the Forest (see image), came out of his ENO residency, from Wagner’s The Master Singers from Nuremberg.
As well as his passion for opera, Tom Hammick also looks at poetry in his work, and in 2018 started a series covering Wordsworth and later Coleridge to illustrate Adam Adam Nicolson’s book: The Making of Poetry (see below)..
Another area of interest for Tom is the environment and the fragile world around us, as in his Geocentric series of dry points and later Tangled Bank (see below) where he invites us to look closely at the hedgerows – teeming with life in its own eco system.
Tom describes his work as a metaphor to explore an imaginary and mythological dreamscape.
Tom’s paintings and prints are in many private, public and corporate collections, including The British Museum, V&A, Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, The Towner, Brighton Museum, Pallant House, Deutsche Bank, the Yale Centre for British Art and the library of Congress, in Washington DC.
James Stewart, curator at Zimmer Stewart Gallery has had the privilege of showing his work since 2004, and am pleased to be able to share this large collection and range of Hammick’s editions with you for the 2023 Gallery Trail and Festival exhibition.
A look at some key exhibitions
In 2020 Tom Hammick exhibited paintings and prints at the Lyndsay Ingram Gallery under the title ‘Nightfire’.
The prints and paintings, all created in the previous 18 months are connected by a stirring undercurrent that crackles to the surface as vivid outlines and surges across the work in expressive striations of colour.
Hammick revisits compositions that have their roots in operatic narratives, poetry, film and literature.
He explores what the different mediums of oil paint on canvas, woodcut and etching bring to each new iteration.
In 2022 Tom Hammick returned to Lyndsay Ingram for an exhibition called My Sister’s Garden.
‘Nightfire’ was accompanied by a catalogue as one would expect for such an exhibition, but Tom Hammick went further to produce a ‘deluxe‘ version of the catalogue with a cloth binding and a set of four small edition variable etchings for clients to choose from.
See above from top right: Little Fire, Wind in my Heart, Windy Mountain and After Munch, all EV woodcuts, 14 x 20 cm, editions of 15.
Then in 2021 a selection of recent and older editions are on view at the Paul Smith flagship store & exhibition space on Albermarle St, London.
The exhibition is titled ‘Miles To Go Before I Sleep’ and explores themes of travel, curiosity and a sense of adventure.
The Albermarle St Paul Smith store has hosted many artists over the last few years, including Holly Frean More than once: Her 2019 solo exhibition 'Who's Counting’ at the Mayfair Paul Smith HQ included paintings, mobiles and artists’ palettes cast in bronze.
Drawing has always been fundamental to Tom Hammick’s work. Amongst his many prizes, awards and residencies is the Jerwood Drawing Prize (2004).
In 2011 we at Zimmer Stewart Gallery presented ‘Out of Drawing’ a joint exhibition of work by Tom Hammick and two of his former pupils Betsy Dadd and Laura Carlin.
Whilst the work on show included video, monoprint, painting as well as drawing, the main message of the exhibition was the importance of this basic skill in all mediums.
The exhibition featured a wall of over 100 drawings by the three artists from their sketchbooks (see image).
Just a quick look at the titles for Hammick’s solo exhibitions gives a clue to his view on the world and how to represent it in his work: ‘Homeland’ (2003); ‘Nocturnal and other paintings’ (2008); ‘Terrestrial’ (2009); ‘Canopy’ (2009); ‘Edgeland’ (2011); ‘Imitations of Nature’ (2011); ‘Night Sky’ (2013); ‘Wall, Window, World’ (2015 see book below); ‘Towards Night’ (2016).
Tom Hammick has described landscape in his work as a metaphor to explore an “imaginary and mythological dreamscape.”
From February to June 2012 the University of Brighton hosted an exhibition of new work by Julian Bell, Tom Hammick and Andre Jackowski under the title ‘Dreams of Here’ at Brighton Museum & Gallery.
‘Here’ ranged from Sussex landscapes to interior spaces, and from vibrant colours to echoing empty rooms. Bell, Hammick and Jackowski all paint and draw figurative images, each with his own distinctive style.
Tom Hammick created brightly patterned paintings depicting modern-day life, reflecting on a lost rural simplicity or the clutter of the contemporary. See ‘Dreams of Us’, a reduction woodcut in an edition of 8, 59 x 44 cm.
Together the work of these three artists took the viewer on a journey of the imagination, from a place of literal description to the landscapes of subconscious worlds.
As with many artists, Tom Hammick, is drawn to poetry for inspiration, representation, and/or collaboration in his work. In 2008 he collaborated with artist, Stephen Chambers and poet, Robert Vas Dias to produce a limited edition book of art and poetry: ‘Leaping Down to Earth’.
The book, designed by Borja Goyarrola was published by Permanent Press and Pratt Contemporary and presented in a cloth slip case with a limited edtion print by both artists.
The poems are a response By Vas Dias to twelve images, six each by Hammick and Chambers, all reproduced in the book.
Poet, Lee Harwood writes ”Leaping Down to Earth is a collection of poems that are some of the best Vas Dias has ever written. There‘s a wit and liveliness to them that often makes me laugh out loud. But also more serious and moving threads weave through these poems. They can be sexy and funny and also include a subtle understanding of the complexities and struggles in human relationships.”
In 2019, Tom Hammick produced a series of 35 woodcuts in response to Adam Nicolson’s book ‘The Making of Poetry’.
This book looks at Coleridge and Wordsworth in their ‘Year of Marvels’: Adam Nicolson tells the story, almost day by day, of the year in the late 1790s that Coleridge, Wordsworth, his sister Dorothy and an ever-shifting cast of friends, dependants and acolytes spent together in the Quantock Hills in Somerset.
The Guardian review of the book compares “prodigiously gifted & colourful artist” Tom Hammick to Coleridge & Nicolson as Wordsworth, “biographer & artist in full flow”.
[See our earlier ‘Making of Poetry’ Blog post for more on this.]
The new (December 2020) edition variable etching above is called ‘Tangled Bank’. (48 x 30 cm, edition of 30).
The composition is partly autobiographical, representing a teenage Tom Hammick exploring local woods in Hampshire.
The title of this etching comes from the last paragraph of Darwin’s 'On the Origin of Species' where the great man uses the sophisticated eco system of a hedgerow covered in plants, animals and insects as a visualising metaphor for the complexities of our biodiversity and a picture of a form of ecstatic environmental wonderment.
In 2015 Tom Hammick produced a series of five edition variable dry point prints in an edition of 15 called the ‘Geocentric’ series. See ‘Forest’ pictured, other titles included ‘Lesula‘, ‘Dusk’, ‘Fallout’ and ‘Night Heron’.
The Geocentric Model is the theory that the Sun, Moon and other planets all orbit the Earth. Until the 16th century many people held this view of the Universre with the Earth at its centre.
In these prints Hammick is emphasising out our inextricable link with nature and the earth, rather than the literal Geocentric Theory.
See also the special deluxe edition book ‘Wall, Window, World’ which comes with a three part etching ‘Fallout’ presented in an embossed box case.
This book published in 2015, with text by Julian Bell, is the first to explore in depth Hammick’s work processes, imagery and career to date.
Julian Bell argues that Tom Hammick’s work constitutes one of the richest imaginative achievements in late 20th and early 21st century British Art.
Please view the collection of available Tom Hammick editions in our online Editions Shop.
If there is a particular edition that you are interested in, please contact us and we will try to source it for you.