with Valerie Hammond
Through Wasp Nest Sculptures and Encaustic Drawings, Valerie Hammond Preserves the Ephemeral
Nature is replete with layering, as seen in the soft tissues of a flower’s petal, the cellular makeup of human skin, or the paper-thin walls of insect nests. Although delicate themselves, these layers offer protection from the more fragile insides and are subsequently prone to change, often through natural decay and exposure to the elements. Valerie Hammond (previously) is drawn to these fleeting moments of life and their inevitable transformation, which she explores through an artistic practice centered around preservation and its limits.
Now based in the Hudson Valley after decades in the East Village, Hammond has spent nearly twenty years considering how quickly an existence can emerge and perish, a theme that emerged during the AIDS crisis in the U.S. Her practice is largely focused on the corporeal and the inherent ephemerality of the human body, which she merges with botanicals in her ongoing series of encaustic drawings.
Using her own limbs and those of her children, friends, and family, Hammond traces outstretched hands and layers the translucent renderings with fresh flowers, pencil markings, wax, and other materials. She portrays the similarities between the vascular and skeletal systems and the structure of ferns and other botanicals, and many works are scaled to the actual size of the human body, preserving the dimensions of a child’s wrist or woman’s fingers as they were in a particular moment. As the series evolves and grows, the pieces offer insight into “how we experience nature and the many ways we might allow it to change us, and the various skins and outer shells that we shed in order to transition to new, and possibly more whole, selves.”
For a recent exhibition at Planthouse, Hammond debuted a new sculpture titled “Laurel” that features a pair of feet with spindly branches emerging mid-calf. Mirroring the encaustic drawings, the work joins a larger collection of anatomical forms and busts made from wasp nests layered with Japanese paper on an armature that again references the impermanent. The natural material “spoke to what I was really looking for in the sculptures,” Hammond shares. “In the last few years, I’ve been thinking about the chimera…about inserting myself in nature, and that’s what I’ve been thinking about in these sculptures, as a way of being a part of nature in this physical, metaphysical, and metaphorical sense.”
Hammond’s work is included in a group show on view through May 23 at Gallery de Sol in Taipei City, and she has a show opening that same month at September Gallery in Kinderhook, New York. To explore a larger archive of her two- and three-dimensional pieces, visit her site and Instagram.
Share this story
Plants Embedded in Wax Sprout from Fragile Hands in Memory-Infused Works by Valerie Hammond
In Valerie Hammond’s series of wax drawings, protection is two-fold: the artist (previously) encases dried flowers and ferns in a thin layer of wax, preserving their fragile tissues long after they’ve been plucked from the ground. In outlining a pair of hands, she also secures a memory, or rather, “the essence of a gesture and the fleeting moment in which it was made.”
Centered on limbs lying flat on Japanese paper, the ongoing series dates back to the 1990s, when Hammond made the first tracing “partly in response to the death of a dear friend, whose beautiful hands I often found myself remembering.” She continued by working with family and friends, mainly women and children, to delineate their wrists, palms, and fingers. Today, the series features dozens of works that are comprised of either hands tethered to the dried botanics, which sprout outward in wispy tendrils, or others overlayed with thread and glass beads.
Although the delicate pieces began as a simple trace, Hammond shares that she soon began to overlay the original drawing with pressed florals, creating encaustic assemblages that “echoed the body’s bones, veins, and circulatory systems.” She continued to experiment with the series by introducing various techniques, including printmaking, Xerox transfers, and finally Photoshop inversions, that distorted the original rendering and shifted her practice. Hammond explains:
The works suddenly inhabited a space I had been searching for, straddling the indefinable boundary between presence and absence, material and immaterial, consciousness and the unconscious. For me, they became emblematic not only of the people whose hands I had traced but of my own evolving artistic process—testimony to the passing of time and the quiet dissolution of memory.
Hammond’s work recently was included in a group show at Leila Heller Gallery. Her practice spans multiple mediums including collage, drawing, and sculpture, all of which you can explore on her site and Instagram.
Share this story
The Delicate Floral Wax Sculptures and Laser Cut Paintings of Valerie Hammond
Valerie Hammond imbues a delicate understanding of each material she works with, whether it’s sculpting flowers and hands from wax or laser cutting large outlines of women onto watercolor paper. Focused on the poetics of each work she produces, details are found not only on the pieces she creates, but the way they cast shadows onto the wall or rest atop a gallery plinth. Her piece “Girl” projects a poem by Emily Dickinson when pinned against the wall, doubling the work’s message in its own shadow.
Hammond received her MFA from the University of California at Berkley, and currently lives and works in New York City. Her work is included in public and private collections such as the Walker Art Center, The Library of Congress, the New York Public Library’s Print and Drawing Collection, the Getty Museum, the Grand Palais Museum, and many more. Hammond is represented by Littlejohn Contemporary in New York City.
Share this story
Editor's Picks: Science
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.