by Susannah Morgan
Everything about Hollis Hammonds’ work is highly personal. Born in rural Northern Kentucky, she was raised in an unconventional, lower income family. Creativity grew out of necessity. She was an imaginative child who used everyday items to make art projects. Living with parents who were collectors (some might say hoarders), she played in a backyard that was a wonderland of discarded cars, a school bus, and even a bulldozer, where she created adventures in make-believe worlds.
Hammonds’ family home and all of its collections were destroyed in a
devastating electrical fire when she was in high school. When you look at Hammond’s work, it is easy to trace connections back to the experiences of her childhood and that fateful fire. Plumes of smoke and wind swirl and churn around piles of household rubble. Viewers can spot dining chairs, mattresses, dolls, bike wheels, and kitchen debris amid remains of homes and other buildings. The infallible nature of memory is a major factor in Hammonds’ work. While she doesn’t have many clear memories of the aftermath of the fire, she works from general impressions that she retains from that time. Through the process of drawing, she gains a larger and more complete understanding of her experience.
Even though she is working from her own personal story, her work is part of the broader story of human experience. She is visually obsessed with larger disasters, which clearly originates from her personal experience. Watching television footage of events such as tsunamis, tornados, earthquakes, and fires, her eye is drawn to the rubble and personal artifacts that follow in the wake of disaster. This most clearly manifests itself in Hammonds’ three- dimensional installations. She has created massive wood veneer installations which convey a sense of dread and danger for the viewer. In particular, a swirling, churning installation for Worthless Matter at Redux Contemporary Art Center in Charleston, SC. Made from wood veneer, furniture, trash, and objects found on the streets of Charleston, it swirls through the space like the smoke monster from Lost. For her recent show, Salvaged, at Austin Community College’s Rio Grande Campus Gallery, Hammonds created huge fishing ropes by hand in which she ensnares left-behind human discardings. “I was thinking about the Japanese tsunami, and how all of the debris washed up on coastlines on the other side of the world,” Hammonds says. Included in this exhibition are a new series of “net drawings” which are a slightly more abstract and lyrical way to deal with the piles of objects left behind. When looking at the work, it is easy to imagine the stories of the people who may have once used the items.
Hammonds’ choice of medium lends itself seamlessly to these themes of humanity, ruin, and destruction. Working with charcoal, graphite, ink, and marker on Mylar or paper, the level of detail is extraordinary. A sense of foreboding beauty comes from the work. In sizes ranging from small and intimate to large and enveloping, the work is completely engrossing. “My work lives in an ambiguous space between reality and fantasy – between fact and fiction.” As a medium, contemporary drawing is currently enjoying a surge of interest. In the past, there has been a tendency to regard drawing as a preparatory medium in service of another more realized work of art. However, more and more, museums across the country are mounting exhibitions devoted entirely to contemporary drawing.
Hammonds has shown extensively in museums and non-profit galleries nationally over the course of her career. She has done this intentionally, working with spaces that allow her to push boundaries and to explore and evolve naturally as an artist. This fall, Davis Gallery is mounting her first major exhibition in which a selection of her finest work from the past four years will be available for purchase. The exhibition, titled Constructs, pairs Hammonds with painter Gladys Poorte. While Hammonds is concerned with destruction and ruin, Poorte focuses on construction and the building of surreal worlds mostly in oil on board. Three-dimensional assemblage pieces will also be on view with Hammonds’ drawings and Poorte’s paintings. The show opens October 25, with an artist talk on December 5, and concludes on December 6.