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PATRICK EARL HAMMIE: NARRATIVE LAYERS

Patrick Earl Hammie is an Illinois-based artist and art professor.  His work is absolutely stunning and poignant http://patrickearlhammie.com/. What I love most about it is the fact that his work comes from a specific place inside of him, but it’s multi-layered and represents many things.  In short, he captures what art is all about.  Read on …  

MICHAEL: Hey Patrick, I'm thrilled to be chatting with you. Your work is SICK. It's big, BOLD, expressive, warm and overwhelmingly human. It's close up and in your face, yet to me, not aggressive. I feel like you're capturing the primal nature of man yet the approach doesn't seem animalistic or crude. I don't know. What do you think?

PATRICK: Hi Michael. Thanks! I've always been interested in large, narrative works in museums and film. I'm glad to hear those interests come through in my work. I've also always responded to works, whether they’re visual art or in music, that have affected my gut as well as my head. I think the visceral is an important gateway to the conceptual framework of a piece or series. I hope those qualities come through upon a viewer's initial experience with my paintings.

MICHAEL: Yes, I do see a strong cinematic vibe in your work. You do paintings on the same theme - series work - so if we were to put them together and flip through them quickly like flash cards, they would be like animation. The works I've seen are nudes. Do viewers need to understand the narratives as you've presented them?

PATRICK: Early influences like comic books, episodic TV and serial works like Jacob Lawrence's, Migration Series had a hand in inspiring me to work in series. It's true that previous works were structured in more linear narratives, but my work has been shifting away from that format. My current series "Significant Other" is more situational. With regard to your question, depending on what personal and cultural experiences viewers bring to my paintings, there may be several narrative layers available, such as the nude, body politics, race, gender and representation. I view the figures, the efforts they exert and the allusions to mythology as metaphors that may open up discussions around these issues.

MICHAEL: Series work implies that you begin with a concept and see it through until the end. How do you balance your planned narrative with discovery and surprise?

PATRICK: The narratives begin as general ideas that develop through the process as the paintings develop. I usually start with an idea of what I want to explore, and a general framework of what type of images I want to see represent that idea. Next, a photo shoot leads to a few hundred images that I edit down, all the while refining what I'm trying to say. When the painting begins, I try to stay sensitive to the mediated layers that came before, while responding to what the painting process is giving me.

MICHAEL: Aren't you also an art professor? What role does teaching play in the evolution of your own work?

PATRICK: Yes, I'm currently a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Having a community of colleagues and graduate students where we constantly dialogue about art has been invaluable in keeping my creative juices bubbling. Also, support from the University has also been pivotal during this economic low in producing ambitious projects, exhibiting work far and wide, as well as traveling for lectures and conferences. Having a gig as a professor has also influenced recent subject matter in ways I didn't expect. For example, the backdrop of my current series is literally a classroom inside an institution of learning. The series involves questioning paradigms of power and representation. It became evident to me that this tableau (of re-thinking), plays out within an institution of learning. I hadn't initially set out to be quite so literal, but as the series developed, the background became an important aspect in my consideration of its implications.

MICHAEL: As a professor, what do you offer art students? Is it really possible to teach someone to become an artist like teaching law to future lawyers or medicine to future doctors?

PATRICK: The simple answer - there are behaviors in all of those fields that, when understood, can position one for various levels of success. As a professor, I set up a series of problems (technical and conceptual) for students to work through and when possible share some professional lessons I've learned.

MICHAEL: What do you think about the way the contemporary art world functions today? The super-wealthy are snapping up blue chip art, yet emerging artists are struggling.

PATRICK: There is an escalating trend among museums and international galleries to accommodate their audiences and donors by providing increasingly monumental and/or high profile exhibitions. While this direction could encourage competitive discourses among artists and institutions, it could also lead to forms of exclusion. During this economic low, emerging artists without the financial means to compete in terms of scale and spectacle, or even simply shipping costs to international locations, will find it increasingly difficult to enter and/or participate in the Contemporary Art world. Additionally, this direction of bigger and louder reinforces similar masculine trends we saw climax during the early and mid 20th century, when wall-sized canvases highlighted the chest beating amongst artists of that era. Among those whose works might be marginalized by this direction are artists whose works challenge those masculine discourses, works that may employ strategies aligned more with historically feminine ideologies and practices such as the hand-crafted, intimate and delicate.

MICHAEL: Isn't it tough being an artist these days? I mean, so few people understand contemporary art let alone buy it. Plus, lack of public education, funding and the mere costs of being an artist must all be a pain in the ass.

PATRICK: You sum it up very well. It's a difficult continuing effort like any other artistic endeavor, but it's also because of those difficulties that many artists and patrons continue to push forward. You mentioned public education, and I believe it's the key to a healthy art world. It's important to not only nurture future artists, but also cultivate an understanding and appreciation for the arts.

MICHAEL: Based upon what you've seen, where do you think contemporary art is headed? Or should that even be a concern for artists and art lovers?

PATRICK: Contemporary art is headed wherever we're headed. Sometimes people talk about the art world as if it is an independent entity, but we're all implicated; you, me, collectors, curators, etc.

MICHAEL: Art history links the work of artists with the society and events of their lifetimes, but many artists today say their own lives or personal experiences influence them more. What do you think?

PATRICK: Our own lives are inextricably linked to society, its histories and events of our lifetimes. It is nearly impossible for an artist - especially one who is exhibiting and participating in any facet of the art world - to be unaffected by the society in which s/he lives. Personal experiences are of course going to influence making, but those personal experiences are reactions and responses to the events of and the society in which one lives. As an African-American man living and working in the U.S. right now, I can't help but be affected by national and international conversations and actions, especially issues around race and gender. In my work, I draw upon the issues and conversations of my society, the historical treatment of those issues, as well as my personal experiences to engage in a dialogue that I'm sure will continue well beyond my lifetime.

MICHAEL: Your work is obviously the work of African-American spirit and insight. However, the humanity of the work is what I think overwhelmingly drives it first. This keeps it from being stereotyped, I think. You're not weighing yourself down with cultural icons or references to show that the work has value because it's already inherently valuable. Thoughts?

PATRICK: As an African-American, my work will undoubtedly have nods to and be influenced by my own experience as an African-American. I think that it is important to make work that pushes the preconceived boundaries of 'black art'. What determines this title anyway? Is it simply art made by black people? Is there some inherent quality of blackness that flows from my hand onto the canvas? I find the idea of 'black art' to be problematic, but at the same time, I recognize that my perspective (and that of other artists of color) is unique and uniquely positioned to critique the system of western art that has developed over the last 500 years. I think it's important to show how multifaceted the African-American community is; there are just as many black experiences as there are white ones. I'm interested in humanistic concerns and issues: gender, race, maturation, history, myth and death. These ideas are not meant to be limited to any specific community, although there are times when one issue is fore-fronted more than others. I enter this discussion to keep a light on the roots of these effects, share my effort to re-imagine a new balance and place these examples in spaces where they have been historically underrepresented.

MICHAEL: Finally Patrick, Is there anything else that you'd like to express as we close?

PATRICK: Yes, you can follow me on Twitter @patrickehammie or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/patrickearlhammieartist. Michael, I'd like to thank you for this opportunity to discuss my work and general ideas around art. The forum you provide for artists and art lovers is valuable as a resource and community. I look forward to reading your future interviews. Cheers.

MICHAEL: Comments like that keep me strong.  Thanks Patrick.

Check out Patrick’s totally cool work at http://patrickearlhammie.com/.



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