William (Bill) Hammond (born 1947 in Christchurch) is a New Zealand artist.
Hammond attended the School of Fine Arts at the University of Canterbury from 1966 to 1969, and has worked as a full-time painter since 1981 (in between times working as a toymaker). His paintings feature two common themes - reference to popular music (often in the form of the liberal use of quoted lyrics within the structure of the paintings), and gaunt creatures with avian heads and human limbs. Hammond's canvases make liberal use of the flow of paint, with rivulets of colours running vertically down the backgrounds. These dark canvases, coupled with the anthropomorphic bird forms, have led to comparisons with the likes artists such as Hieronymus Bosch.
His best known work is probably the painting "Waiting for Buller" (1993 ), which refers to the ornithologist Walter Lawry Buller.
Artist influences and themes
Lyttelton artist Hammond spent the 1970s working in design and toy manufacturing, returning to painting in 1981. Hammond’s work tackles social and environmental issues, conveying messages about humanity and its status as an endangered species.
Hammond has looked back into New Zealand’s environmental history for his subject matter, drawing inspiration from the studies and attitudes of Sir Walter Buller. The Buller paintings reveal some of the ways in which birds have been forced to relate to us. Hammond has read widely on the practices of Victorian ornithology. Walter Buller’s ‘A History of the Birds of New Zealand’ with illustrations by John G. Keulemans, provided a source of inspiration for some of these paintings. Buller was a prominent lawyer and ornithologist whose studies of native birds are still regarded as deﬁnitive today. He believed that the native people, plants and birds of New Zealand would inevitably be rendered extinct by European colonists. Although he was involved in campaigns to protect some species of bird, Buller did so reluctantly and continued to collect specimens for his own research. In paintings such as "Waiting for Buller", Hammond moves away from mutated forms and renders the birds in a manner reminiscent of scientiﬁc illustrations.
A major shift in Hammond’s practice came in the early 1990s after he returned from a trip to the remote Auckland Islands, where there are no people and birds still rule the roost. Hammond imagined himself in Old New Zealand, before even Māori had arrived. Environments under threat, the vulnerability of life in a precarious world, and the complex relationships between Māori, Europeans and nature are expressed through Hammond’s graphic work.
Techniques and processes
Hammond's work also covers a range of references including folk art, popular culture, Renaissance art and architecture, ancient Assyrian and Egyptian art, decorative arts, and Japanese woodblock prints.
Hammond’s Ancestors paintings are influenced by the in Māori mythology of Tāne, god of the forest and all creatures, and ancestor of both human beings and birds. Hammond’s version of the Egyptian god Horus is the extinct giant New Zealand eagle.The paintings also draw on narrative stone bas-reliefs from Nimrud, in particular Protective Spirit in Sacred Tree (875-860 BCE), depicting a winged eagle-headed magical ﬁgure, along with burial sites, rock drawings, moa in prehistoric New Zealand (prey for the giant eagle), and the shape of the landscape in and around Banks Peninsula.
Hammond’s paintings show a collapse of foreground and background that provides a sense of inﬁnite space in the style of traditional Chinese painting and Ukiyo-e.
The intricate textiles of the Middle East and Asia and the effects of golden ﬁlaments embroidered on clothing and metallic backgrounds stamped onto ﬁne fabric are echoed in Hammond’s embellishments.
Auckland Islands trip
The three-week trip (part of the ‘Art in the Sub-Antarctic’ project in 1989) to the remote, windswept islands had a signiﬁcant impact on Hammond. The Auckland Islands, where the severity of the climate has allowed little human impact on the natural environment, was something of a revelation. In an interview with Gregory O’Brien for ‘Lands and Deeds’ (Godwit, Auckland, 1996), Hammond spoke of the islands as a kind of lost world, ruled over by beak and claw: “The Auckland Islands are like New Zealand before people got here. It’s bird land.” Pre-historic New Zealand has been an abiding interest for Hammond, who imagined himself in a primordial New Zealand before the arrival of humans. He developed surreal paintings of birds-becoming-people inﬂuenced by ornithological illustration, colonial topological landscape painting, comics, children’s books, history painting, Hieronymous Bosch, Grandville, Max Ernst’s Loplop and, crucially, Buller’s Birds.