June 12, 2014, by David Ebony
New York State's Hudson Valley is known for its grand old mansions, some haunted by storied pasts. One such place is currently filled with art courtesy of Kiki Smith, her sister Seton Smith, and Valerie Hammond.
The Dr. Oliver Bronson House, built in 1812 on the southwestern edge of the small town of Hudson, N.Y., overlooking the river, is a once-resplendent home that became a reform school for girls in the 1920s-notably attended by Ella Fitzgerald-and eventually part of a prison complex. Built for businessman Samuel Plumb, who owned a fleet of tugboats, the house was redesigned for Bronson in 1839 by Hudson River School architect Alexander Jackson Davis.
The derelict structure standing today was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2003. But representatives of Historic Hudson, Inc., an organization dedicated to preserving the area's cultural heritage, say that within three years the building will likely collapse without repairs estimated to cost $475,000.
When Hammond and Kiki Smith proposed an exhibition in the space, Historic Hudson green-lighted the project to help raise funds and bring awareness to the restoration project. "Three Artists at the Dr. Oliver Bronson House" nearly fills the sprawling, three-story mansion.
The exhibition features sculptures and works on paper by Hammond, large-scale multipanel drawings by Smith and photographs by her sister, Seton. Set against crumbling walls, Kiki Smith's images of like-size figures and Hammond's sculptures of disembodied female figures in elaborately patterned dresses and gowns suggest ghostly presences occupying the forlorn spaces. Meanwhile, Seton Smith's large soft-focus photos of other Hudson Valley buildings complement the many refined Federal-style details at Bronson House that have survived, albeit in precarious condition.
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2016: 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."
-Kate Sierzputowski, March 3, 2016
BLUE RAINBOW - 2013
Littlejohn Contemporary is pleased to announce an exhibition of recent work by New York artist Valerie Hammond. A prolific sculptor and printmaker, Hammond maintains a fluid artistic practice, distinguishable for her deft interaction with different mediums. However, the tangibility of her materials and processes are subtly undermined by the poetic nature of her imagery. The work in this exhibition, which includes a new series of drawings, a sculptural paper installation, and a multi-paneled artist’s book, revolves around the theme of memory and the influence of the past on everyday experience.
The majority of Hammond’s recent drawings were made this summer, while at the Cill Rialaig Artist’s Residency in Ballinskelligs, Ireland, an area heavy with Irish "Piseóg", or superstition. Hammond is fascinated by stories which blur reality; her work plays with the dichotomy between what is seen and the sensation it provokes. One Irish belief, told to Hammond during her stay, resonated with her: upon death, one’s soul resides in the body of a hare so that it can attend to unfinished business or visit loved ones. Hammond’s daily walks were punctuated by sightings of these hares. Silent and still, they fearlessly returned her gaze, penetrating the hushed gulf between human and animal, as if accessing a timeless, otherworldly realm. Hammond’s drawings convey a similar sensation. For her, they become talismanic, serving as manifestations of visual memory.
A large-scale work in the exhibition, titled Blue Rainbow, is more abstract but similarly evocative. Arranged in a grid, several sheets of Japanese paper have been variously printed in indigo blue ink, using a stencil of hole-punches, and pierced with specially-made, glass-orbed hatpins, which dot the piece with reflective light. The result is a minimalist night sky, tactile and airy in its materiality, bordered at the bottom by a printed rainbow. Skewing the modernist grid towards the celestial and ephemeral, Hammond’s piece both references the larger scope of art history and serves as a road map to her artistic process; Blue Rainbow is assembled on-site, providing a more intimate view of her methodology.
Hammond’s recent artist’s book, Substance of a Dream, 2012, made in a small, variable edition of eight, pays homage to her dreams. Constructed accordion-style, the book can be arranged in different sculptural configurations, an important aspect for Hammond. She has long been inspired by art works of this nature – the idea of “portable sculpture” – like Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise and the surreal shadow boxes of Joseph Cornell. Visually stunning, Hammond’s book is composed of images digitally printed from her daily sketchbooks and further hand-worked with drawing and painting. Each page supports a floating paper head, laser-cut with the recollection of an intensely vivid dream, which falls gently forward when the book is opened. The cut-out letters produce a lacey, layered transparency between pages; when lit, the words are transposed to the book’s pedestal. Interestingly, the text is more readable as shadow, echoing the dream’s origins in the dim, enigmatic recesses of the mind. Evocative of many associations, from Freudian psychology to surrealism’s appropriation of dream-like imagery, Hammond’s book, like much of her work, is a physical ode to the navigation of memory and emotional symbolism within the elusive paths of the unconscious.
- Gallery Press Release for exhibition, Blue Rainbow, 2013
"As an artist I have found that process is a fundamental part of my work. In practice this means that I might have ideas about where my work is going, but often the physical process of the work informs what actually happens in my studio. I am interested in evoking sensation and making work which is corporeal in nature. While the figures and portraits may begin to point towards or suggest sentiment, it is important to me that the work is not sentimental but experiential.
Growing up in a small agricultural community in California, my exposure to cultural institutions was limited, at best. I have always been drawn to places and objects that are full of mystery. Some of my most significant visual influences were images I saw in church. While the religious aspect of my church experience was less pressing, the visual cues at church were what kept my attention. I am fascinated by shrines and ex-votos-devotional votive objects that families make to show love and respect. These objects inspire the type of physical intimacy that holds my artistic practice. Asian art is also a strong influence on my work. From Tibetan medical drawings to Buddhist sculptures, I find myself looking to ancient forms for inspiration. Gesture often plays a most prominent role for these artists-as it does for me-whether it plays out in a small aspect of the image or is its essence, as with the images of hands.
Layering is another essential aspect of my work. Whether this is seen or perceived as physical or contextual, my interest is in combining the literal and emotional qualities that are evoked through the physical process of layering. I begin by collecting ferns and other organic materials, transforming them through drawing and the printmaking process, creating images that marry the ferns with images of the body. These images reflect the uniqueness of individual hands, as well as reveal the tracing of the spirit. The process, in which the image itself is submerged in a tray of heated wax, metaphorically removes the image from the world of the living but paradoxically preserves it indefinitely. The images act as mechanisms to stop time-to document a moment in a person life-an open meditation on portraiture. "
- Valerie Hammond , 2011
Valerie Hammond has always been drawn to places and objects that are full of mystery. The expressive and devotional qualities of church shrines, ex-votos, and Asian art ranging from Tibetan medical drawings to Buddhist sculptures have served as inspiration for the artist. As spiritual objects, they possess the ability to impart on the viewer a sense of enchantment grounded by human connectivity, and this offering of transformation echoes Hammond's desire to record both the tangible and elusive aspects of the human condition in her work.
Valerie Hammond was born in Santa Maria, California. She received her MFA from the University of California at Berkeley, where she was awarded the Eisner Award. Upon graduation she moved to New York City and subsequently, was appointed to her first teaching position through the Cleveland Institute of Art in Lacoste, France. She lived in France on and off for the next three years. Upon returning to New York, she began teaching inner city school children art part time through the Studio in a School program. Hammond has taught printmaking at Columbia University, New York University, the Yale Norfolk Program; drawing at Cooper Union School of Art, and has been a visiting art critic at RISD. She has had exhibitions in Madrid, New Zealand, New Delhi, and throughout the United States.