Interview with Patrick Earl Hammie, by Jennifer Palmer

Published: Vol. I, Issue III
Date of Interview: Dec. 8th, 2014

You received a B.A. in Drawing and Psychology from Coker College. How did your education play a role in your development? Do you feel your Psychology background plays a role in your process?

Having the opportunity to learn at a liberal arts institution was invaluable. I took courses across the college that exposed me to many new ideas and practices, and psychology was one of them. Through those psychology courses I learned to question why we behave, and ask deeper ones about the systems that influence those behaviors. In many ways, that became the root for my 2007-2008 project, Imperfect Colossi, a series of paintings that reflected upon my father’s death in 1999. After, I assumed an intractable façade of strength to protect myself from emotional vulnerability. When I thought through those behaviors, I became curious about their source and art’s role in representing and nurturing like traits. The word colossus usually refers to a large statue, a model that western male artists have used for centuries to search for ideal masculine forms. In this series I put my un-idealized brown body in conversation with those forms. Like the clay studies those classical sculptures were based on, I visualized an effort to reshape myself and proposed the possibility of a new ideal, one positioned more as a work in progress than an achievable end.

It seems you use your art to explore and find answers. Over time have you found that your practice has changed?

The search for some personal answers inspired my practice generally, and is still the spark behind the subjects I’m drawn to, but my interest quickly shifted more toward asking larger questions and proposing discourses around these subjects. In part my interest is historical: paintings of the nude human body have served for centuries as key sites for negotiating issues of identity. My own work takes up this tradition, investigating and reshaping these conventions in order to examine critical aspects of gender and race today. I consider the pictorial, technical, and narrative conventions of Western art to explore the ways in which primarily male artists have imagined the body. Initially I was most interested in inserting black and brown male bodies into that tradition in a manner that both disturbed existing conventions and proposed alternative understandings of race and gender. More recently I’ve expanded my practice to include representations of women.

And would you discuss the influence that your residency at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center had on your work?

Prior to the residency my studio practice as a painter was very solitary. At Kohler, the studios were very social spaces. I was surrounded by technicians, factory workers, my residency-mate, some assistants, and an intern—I learned the value of a social studio practice. Since then, I’ve invited more historians, critics, and friends into my space, and have also worked with several studio assistants. Inspiration for my current project began during my residency. It allowed me time to investigate sculptural practices through the casting of calla lilies and my own body to reconsider the contemporary resonance of themes such as death, desire, and rebirth. Those experiences are broadening my current practice to employ two-dimensional and three-dimensional production strategies. Exploring practices that prioritize space poses new challenges for me, and I’m keen to discover how negotiating that terrain will expand my ideas.

Very interesting. I am curious, what project(s) are you currently working on?

I’m beginning my current project by thinking through closely cropped painted and drawn portraits. I’m considering ideas like agency, maternity, and mortality. One of the first in this direction is Study for Mouthpiece, part of a trio of self-portraits. As the two-dimensional work develops, I plan to revisit the ideas explored at Kohler and expand toward three-dimensions. I post current projects, exhibitions, and news on my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.

Study for Mouthpiece | Charcoal on Paper | 78" x 60" | 2014

What is your workspace/studio like?

My studio space has changed over time: during my project Equivalent Exchange (2008-2010) I worked out of my guest bedroom, which was small and dark. I thought all my work back then was brighter than it is. My current studio is located in the historic Armory building at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign—while bigger, the most noted change is light. It’s really helps me see colors more truly and explore a fuller range of values. The building and space are beautiful, but I find it ironic to make artwork in a place established to prepare for war. It’s a rather industrial space with exposed pipes and concrete floors still scarred from WWII gun turret exercises. I like to think that through paint residue and charcoal dust I’ve added some of my industry.

The artists workspace.

And what is an essential item you need in your studio?

My stereo. There’s a soundtrack to every activity. I listen to certain artists for getting pumped up and started, working for long stints, and looking and reflecting.

Your work has so much energy and power I was wondering if you like to work from life or do you work off of photographs?

Thanks. I enjoy working from life and secondary sources—they possess different attributes. It’s like the difference between going to a theater production and going to a movie. For years I’ve used secondary sources to gain the space to see dynamic opportunities that are unique to mediated references. Like artists of the past who investigated the ways light activated pigments to create illusion, I’m interested in how live human expressions are captured and mediated through the camera, computer, editing software, the computer screen, and my own body.

I feel that you are having a dialogue with your audience with each body of work. And you discussed leaving your mark on your current workspace. To expand on this, what imprint would you like your artwork to have on the viewer?

A friend once described the way I work as similar to a musician’s concept album—each album has its own focus. I want to present grand stories steeped in Western history that contest embedded assumptions about gendered and racialized identity, and share fresh perspectives on both dignified and compromised bodies. Many examples of figurative art today celebrate the traditions and Romantic gestures of the past, but often represent outdated expressions of the body. While in the short term I seek to reframe those narratives, more generally I aim to contribute to contemporary examples of portraits and artists that art patrons encounter and identify with in public collections.

Whose work interests you right now? What artists/poets/presses/galleries put out work that you find exciting?

That’s hard because I consume a lot of media (movies, music, artworks, audio books), all of which inform me in some way. I guess I’m drawn to beautifully crafted, epic narratives that delve into difficult historical realities but feel intimate. I keep returning to artists and projects like Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave, specifically because it didn’t feel the need to make people feel comfortable, and Octavia E. Butler’s Patternist series, which I’ve recently been consumed by. I’m also interested in the ways that some storytelling in anime isn’t steeped in Western-isms—those nuances help me rethink my own inclinations toward certain narratives. Some visual artists whose work I enjoy are Francis Bacon, Jean Michel Basquiat, iona rozeal brown, Nick Cave, Lucien Freud, Theaster Gates, Barkley L. Hendricks, Titus Kaphar, Sally Mann, Robert Mapplethorpe, Kerry James Marshall, Richard Mosse, Yinka Shonibare MBE, Mickalene Thomas, Hank Willis Thomas, and Kara Walker. I wish I could list and discuss all the artists I like, but that might need its own feature.