Recognizable Subjects in Unrecognizable Situations
by Rabia Ashfaque (Class of 2014)
He smiles mischievously, almost as if he knows something you don’t. He seems obliging enough to share some secrets; you’ll have to get to know him better if you want to learn more. The Native American couple, whose faces occupy the middle of his chest, seem to occupy each other’s hearts as well. He wears their love proudly, as he does the rest of the ink on his body.
Tattooed Man (2017) is among the latest works in the series of "Dazzle Paintings" (2012–2017) and photographs (2014–2017) by Jane Hammond in Search Light, on view at Galerie Lelong. At once intimate and whimsical, her painted portraits are lusciously layered with molten metallic tones and symbols from her famed lexicon of images, while the titles are deceptively playful: Chick (2016) is a dual reference to the girl and the bird featured in the picture; Funny Towel (2017), a tongue-in-cheek nod to the covered yet revealed curvature of the female form. A play between literary and visual vocabularies is afoot, further complicating an already nuanced body of work. “Hammond is by nature a collector…(who) has always used found images to create layers of meaning and new narratives,” wrote Lyndsey Ingram in her foreword to Hammond’s 2014 show No Assembly Required at the Sims Reed Gallery, London. There, the artist exhibited paper collages that explored various techniques, all of which represented “Hammond’s eccentric, more-is-more character,” as Ingram put it. Here, while collages are certainly an underlying factor, the work exhibited seems more about rural characters and their agronomical narratives, such as the image of a young woman, dressed up in a heart-patterned dress, by all indications waiting for her sweetheart, evoking heartwarming images of old-fashioned courtship in Valentine MC (2015) or a child holding a ducking that appears to have been released from its cage, surrounded by a group of children standing in front of a bricked wall in Duckling (2013).
Nancy Princenthal once wrote “To the uninitiated eye, Jane Hammond’s drawings are unruly gardens of delight… they are also the very model of tidy husbandry,” and that is certainly true for this exhibition. But as Princenthal also pointed out, Hammond’s work is not easy to interpret; moreover, it seems that it may be designed not to be so, given the deliberate bizarreness of the situations portrayed in many of her works. Her photoshopped photographs appear as the more baffling of the two sets of works on view in the exhibition. Park (2014) depicts a rather disorienting scene; a child, holding gardening shears, looks on as two girls untangle string in the background, while a kimono-clad woman stares sleepily at the viewer, her face half covered with a balloon and a horse standing behind her. Meanwhile, a flock of pelicans hover menacingly close to a nest of eggs as some broken eggs, and the head of a duck, lie on the ground close to the child. Three men, clad in all black, seem to be observing this scene from afar. The setting remains the same but the scene changes in Nine Days Later (2015) to a person hanging upside down from a tree, a man lounging about next to a doll in a chair, a dollhouse in the background, a lady taking a nap with her face covered by a hat, ducks heading for the water and two men playing chess. Fact and fiction come together to become simultaneously believable and unbelievable in these images, all of which seem to present an alternate reality: a reality we may not have experienced but which exists nonetheless, like the disturbing image of a child eating cotton candy, casually observing a naked woman who appears to be a hooker in Cotton Candy (2017).
“Jane Hammond is a fictrix–she who forms, fashions, and models by hand… In her hands, photographs are malleable, but not infinitely so. Before she manipulates them, she listens to them, very closely (with her eyes), and the process becomes a conversation,” David Levi Strauss wrote in JANE HAMMOND Recent Photographs. In her process of transforming images, she picks recognizable subjects and places them in unrecognizable situations, and this very state of partial recognition is what makes the images so wonderfully bizarre.