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Littlejohn Contemporary exhibits drawings and sculpture by New York artist Valerie Hammond
Flutter I, (detail). Intaglio with collage on gampi paper, 28.75 x 22.5.

by Maggie Wright

NEW YORK, NY.- Littlejohn Contemporary presents an exhibition of recent drawings and sculpture by New York artist Valerie Hammond. The show takes its title from the first line of an Emily Dickinson poem:

I stole them from a Bee—
Sweet plea—
He pardoned me!

Though what exactly was stolen from the bee is uncertain, one might surmise it was a bouquet of sweet-smelling flowers; the bee, momentarily ungrounded, must renew its search for another bloom. The sensations provided by this brief reverie – the thief’s hesitation, the bee’s startled buzz, the still warmth of perfumed air – are those of the same wonderment and contemplative introspection that permeate Hammond’s work. Interestingly, she almost chose for her title “A dim capacity for wings,” a line from another Dickinson poem in which the narrator, a new butterfly, emerges from her chrysalis. In the first poem, one is witness to a bee’s staggered flight; in the other, the notion of flight is experienced in the first person. This shift in perspective is at the crux of Hammond’s work; transformation occurs in the slowed perception of a passing moment, when the reverberation of nature echoes in the soul.

Hammond features eleven new watercolors and graphite drawings in this exhibition, all with a sense of chimerical transfiguration. The tufted fur of a doe’s backside turns to feathers; the heart-shaped face of an owl becomes the wings of a moth. Flowers, bats, and butterflies are on the verge of morphing into each other; the hare, which stands alone, has human eyes. Hammond’s imagery is at once palpable and intangible, visceral and ghostly, as if the meditative experience of intensive, real-life observation slowly gives way to an enchanted, spiritual realm. At times, her light touch and restricted palette (silvery graphite, ethereal blue) render areas of her drawings almost invisible; like a mirage, they seem to fade in and out of view. Hammond describes the drawings, which continue a loose series she began in 2013, as reacting to and informing each other – almost as if they were interrelated characters in an ongoing but ephemeral narrative: a loose web of fleeting scenes and hushed dialogue.

Hammond’s imagery extends through her practice in other ways as well. She is an avid printmaker, as evidenced by the etchings included in this show, as well as a sculptor. Her three-dimensional works are often assembled from two-dimensional drawings and prints. Transferred to very thin Japanese gampi paper, layered images of flora and fauna are sewn together to make long, glove-like arms and carefully constructed heads (Hammond’s son Luc was the model); sewing threads trail from seams like veins or tendrils. The delicacy and transparency of the paper is intentionally reminiscent of skin – here again a sort of metamorphosis is taking place. The head’s features, and especially its eyes, are partially obscured by the wings of a large moth; the arms, seemingly discarded, resemble molted snake skins, cast away in preparation for renewal. In another sculpture, made instead from eerie, luminescent wax, an arm extends like a branch from a cluster of fecund blooms; in its hand is nestled a little bird.

Much of Hammond’s inspiration can be traced to her Hudson River property in upstate New York. The several secluded acres surrounding her centuries-old, many-roomed farmhouse have a variety of flowers and plants, a parade of daily animal visitors, and the low but consistent hum of insects. Wings beating, fur shifting, a startled and wild gaze – all comprise the almost imperceptible moments which unfold daily outside Hammond’s studio door. It is in this charged landscape that Hammond navigates both representation and the manifestation of the un-representable, how we experience nature and the many ways we might allow it to change us, and the various skins and outer shells that we shed in order to transition to new, and possibly more whole, selves.

Valerie Hammond maintains a fluid artistic practice, distinguished by her organic approach and deft interaction with different mediums. Yet the tangibility of her materials and processes are subtly undermined by the poetic nature of her imagery. Hammond was born in Santa Maria, California. She received her MFA from the University of California at Berkeley, where she was awarded the Eisner Award. Her work is included in public and private collections such as the Walker Art Center, The Fine Arts Museum Houston, The Library of Congress, the New York Public Library's Print and Drawing Collection, the Getty Museum, the Progressive Collection, the Chazen Museum of Art, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, the Grand Palais Museum, and the Fidelity Collection. She has exhibited in solo shows and group exhibitions in the United States, Europe, China, New Zealand and India. Hammond is the recipient of awards and fellowships from the New York Foundation of the Arts, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and the Peter S. Reed Foundation. She currently lives in New York City and upstate New York. This is the artist’s fifth exhibition with Littlejohn Contemporary.

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