Bill Hammond

Flight Recorder

1998
acrylic on six unstretched canvas panels
1800mm x 2500mm (overall)

signed W.D. Hammond, dated 1998 and inscribed Flight Recorder in brushpoint (each)

Provenance

Collection of Helene Quilter, Wellington.
Acquired from Brooke Gifford Gallery, Christchurch.

Exhibitions

Jingle Jangle Morning, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, 20th July–22nd October, 2007; City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi, 16th November–10th February, 2008.

The Helene Quilter and Tony Chamberlain Collection, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, 1998.

Literature

Jennifer Hay, Bill Hammond, Laurence Aberhart, Chris Knox, and Ron Brownson, Bill Hammond: Jingle Jangle Morning (Christchurch: Christchurch Art Gallery, 2007), 118–19.

Collections

Previously on long term loan to the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, 1998–2014.

Essay

Although much has been written about Bill Hammond’s painting since he first appeared on the national scene in the 1980s, he remains to some extent an enigma. Commentaries on h...

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Estimate $50,000 - $70,000
Achieved $58,625

Bill Hammond

Flight Recorder

1998

acrylic on six unstretched canvas panels

signed W.D. Hammond, dated 1998 and inscribed Flight Recorder in brushpoint (each)

1800mm x 2500mm (overall)

Auction N˚4

Estimate $50,000 - $70,000

Achieved $58,625

Footnotes
  1. Jennifer Hay, “Jingle Jangle Morning” in Jennifer Hay, Laurence Aberhart, Chris Knox, Ron Brownson, Bill Hammond: Jingle Jangle Morning. (Christchurch, N.Z.: Christchurch Art Gallery, 2007), 25.

Flight Recorder

by Andrew Clark

Although much has been written about Bill Hammond’s painting since he first appeared on the national scene in the 1980s, he remains to some extent an enigma. Commentaries on his work often cite his trip to the Auckland Islands in 1989, which has been described as “transformational,”¹  and which has as a result become part of the “official” mythology which surrounds Hammond’s practice. However, aside from pointing out the post-colonial metaphor implicit in painting native birds as the inhabitants of a primordial, pre-contact landscape, much of what is written about these works focuses on describing their contents, attempting to “close-read” them as though they were archaic comic strips or freeze-frames from some Palaeolithic television drama. This is in part a result of the almost aggressively figurative nature of Hammond’s works; they are rarely anything other than representational, clearly meant to show us images of objects and things, even if what exactly those things are can be difficult to make out, at times.

Flight Recorder, from 1998, shows Hammond at a transitional point in his career. The bird-folk, who have since become the defining motif of his work, are in full evidence, but the work retains traces of Hammond’s late-eighties style, a frenetic blend of Japanese ukiyo-e influences, underground comix, and punk rock. The painting is executed across six unstretched canvas pieces, three of which are elongated triangles, like sporting pennants. Here, as in early works such as The Look of Love plus The Sound of Music (1986), the composition consists of a scattered collection of objects and motifs: birds and bird-hybrids; aeroplanes; running figures; a mattress; an angel with a trumpet, perhaps heralding the End Times; a stuffed bird and a drawer of eggs; a meticulously rendered bat with a human face, like a specimen from a nightmare cabinet of curiosities; and an airport arrival board, humorously informing the viewer that flight 3058 from Wellington has “DELANDED,” and is perhaps now trapped in a quantum state. However, such a description amounts to little more than a catalogue of the work’s contents, offering few clues as to its meaning and purpose.

In order to do more than just “read” the surface of Hammond’s works, it is necessary to address those elements of their construction which remain intangible and difficult. Hammond has succeeded as an artist in part because of his reticence to explain himself; much of the strength of his works is related to their aura of mystery, and their unique atmosphere: perched somewhere between esoteric arcana and thrift-store kitsch, they resist interpretation as much as they invite it. However, some clues may be gleaned from Flight Recorder’s disparate elements.

Firstly, this work is concerned with the idea of fragmentation and reassembly, of putting things together, both in the sense of repairing things which were one whole (like the triangular pennants, perhaps sliced from the same sheet of cloth) and also of attempting to reconcile things which were never meant to go together, a kind of conceptual and metaphorical assemblage. This complexity is addressed by the work’s title, which contains a range of possible meanings. A Flight Recorder could be a black box salvaged from the remains of a downed aircraft, memorialising the chaos and terror of the plane’s final moments, but the word “flight” could equally apply to the act of running away, in which case this painting would also be a recording of a retreat—although from what, and towards what, remains somewhat obscure. The idea that this painting is a recording, a document, or a testament is beguiling, especially given its fragmentary nature.