In a world where art is big business, artists can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the demands of managers, art dealers, gallery owners, patrons, and well-meaning family and friends who all have an opinion on what makes good art sell. Is it just a myth that we purists cling to, this idea that art is about more than its sales price? At least for Los Angeles based artist Erin Hammond, art is about something more. For Hammond, art is not a commodity, but an opportunity to connect with other human beings through shared experiences.
Hammond’s recent works focus exclusively on women and delve deep into the human side of art that is both personal and emotional. Equally inspired by Vogue and German Expressionism, Hammond’s art is subversive in its depiction of women who at first glance will remind you of the unrealistic ideal of women represented in fashion magazines, but upon closer inspection Hammond’s women become real women, incomplete and flawed, searching.
AF: How did your journey as an artist begin?
EH: I’ve always had an interest in art. I’m the oldest of seven kids. We grew up in a small town in Wisconsin. We didn’t come from much, but my parents did the best they could. I like to say I started painting in the womb. I was in every art class growing up. I was my art teacher’s favorite in grade school. Then I went on to major in painting and sculpture at the University of Wisconsin, Parkside. In college I was the president of the art club and would go to museums and galleries with my sketchbook and draw. That’s how it started.
AF: Is anyone else in your family artistic?
EH: My dad is a musician. My brother, Kevin Hammond, is also a musician, and he came out to LA first before I did. I followed him here. I think I thought, “Well if he can do it then I can do it.” I wanted to live in New York or Paris. LA wasn’t on my list, but I think when my brother moved here I thought maybe it was a good idea to come and try and pursue my dreams.
AF: How would you describe your style of art?
EH: I think my art fits into Emotionalism and Romanticism, with a modern twist on classical themes.
AF: Who are your artistic influences?
EH: I really love Käthe Kollwitz. She was a German Expressionist. I also really like Gustav Klimt and Edgar Degas. I do like the contemporariness of Larry Rivers. He has a choppy coloring book kind of feel to his work.
AF: What inspires you to create art?
EH: It’s something that is innate in me. There have been times when I’ve said I don’t want to paint anymore, but then I find myself severely missing out on the completion of life. Something is definitely missing and I realize I need to paint again. And then I paint a lot.
AF: Are your paintings more expressive of your emotional state, or a commentary on the depiction of women in our culture?
EH: I think it’s a mix of both of those things. I think in each piece that I paint there is definitely a huge element of what I’m feeling at the time. I go through seasons in my life like every human being does. If you were to sit down and look at all of my paintings you would be able to see the rollercoaster, the plateaus, but I also am in a way trying to keep this classical theme of women, to express their femininity, but keep it timeless. I’ve painted many other things, but right now I’m on a woman kick. That’s all I’m painting right now. I’m at a period of my life where I’m growing into who I really am, and what I stand for, and I think each of these women that I paint are essentially a part of me and my interactions with other people.
AF: Your last art show was titled “Meaningless Methods,” what does that signify for you?
EH: Being in the culture I’m in, and the way I was raised, there are so many dos and don’ts about how you’re supposed to act and behave. Even in galleries, people say, “You can’t use pink, you have to use this,” or, “You can’t do that, people want to see this.” I reached my breaking point where I said I’m not going to paint for anyone but myself now. So it was about starting a fresh page on my journey. It was getting overwhelming. I’m sure anyone can relate. How long can you do what people want you to do? How long can you keep doing not what is in your heart and what you were really made to do? And that’s what meaningless methods embodied, a new leap of faith. This is who I am. This is what I want to do.
AF: What is your creative process?
EH: Sometimes I write, and from there I like to page through my art history books and fashion magazines and I people watch. I do a lot of people watching. I have a million sketchbooks, but my sketching process doesn’t really go into my paintings. I tried doing that in school, that’s what you’re supposed to do, but I can’t. I have a lot of concepts in my head, and sometimes I just have to think about it a lot. I turn music on. I listen to all types of music. I try different things. When I find I have gotten my original concept across, then the painting is done.
It’s weird, there are some days I’ll sit down, and think I have the flow, or whatever you want to call it, but I’ll be sitting there for hours and nothing. And then there are days where I’ll be able to paint six paintings. And then there are days where I’ll just be working on one and it’s looking like a mud bath. My husband will say, “I think maybe you should take a break.” I take breaks and I will dance, and let it all out.
AF: A lot of your paintings are very large in size, is that part of your aesthetic?
EH: I think for a long time I only painted large sporadically. I was mainly painting your 24” x 32”, and smaller sizes. But I’ve always wanted to paint large, and I just made a decision oaky I’m going to do it now. I still paint smaller ones, but I don’t like to go smaller than 24” x 32” because I feel it’s too controlled, too constricted. I need room.
AF: A lot of your paintings have an unfinished quality to them, you can see pencil lines, or there are areas with no paint on them, how does that work into your aesthetic?
EH: It’s about the person viewing each piece filling it in with their own vision of what they see. And I want to show that we are all unfinished, that we are in this process of completion. We are not perfect. We are very flawed. We are undone. That’s part of it. I want to show the raw side of it, of how this piece came about. That means showing those lines, and unfinished parts. I think it’s important to show the viewers those parts. If a painting becomes too finished, I’m completely dissatisfied with it, and I have to paint over it. It makes me feel uncomfortable if it’s too finished.
AF: Do you believe you present in your work a femininity that is different from what a male artist would portray?
EH: I have been battling with this lately. Can people tell that I’m a woman? It bothers me. I don’t want that to be known. I’m all about equality, but then again, I still become subject to what people think. I don’t want people to know I’m a woman, but I do because I am a woman. I don’t want to hide behind that, but then I also want people to view my work for what it is, and I feel like my work would be looked at differently if I were a male artist. I don’t want to struggle with this. I want to be proud. I do want to stand as an example for other women. I saw at my last art show the effect I have on women. The women who talked to me, they read my statement and they were crying. My life story, and what I’ve overcome, touched them.
When I make personal deliveries to peoples’ homes, and I sit down with for example an older woman who had me in tears talking to me about one of my paintings and how it reminded her of her mother, I definitely want to be known as a woman.
AF: Where do you sell your art?
EH: I’m represented in a gallery in Switzerland and one in Hollywood. I sell mostly through galleries and art shows and also online.
To view more of Hammond’s art you can visit her website: http://erinhammondart.com/