In Memoriam
Martin Hammond (1931-2020)



Martin Hammond in his studio, 2019.

Words by Pierre Roffe
Photography by Francis Hammond

Martin Hammond is a painter of intense colours that are brought together in a way that they produce so much movement, and so harmoniously, that they seem to mimic the movements found in nature. There's vibrancy in everything he does, in his paintings, his pottery, his love of music and instruments. He has a few things to teach us.

The older I get, the more I discover and the more I am taught—so the more I know. There was a vacant space yesterday which today was packed with a life lesson, and such will be till I die. The passage of time does make you wiser if you’re fortunate, and I believe everyday presents an opportunity to go through the right experiences. The problem is these do not ever come up as predicted, do they?

Such happened whilst making this piece about the painter Martin Hammond. The artist is eighty-eight years old, and I’m only near a quarter of a century. He takes the advantage on life and is far more learned, so I must keep up. The time I spent trying to produce an intelligent piece, with research in twentieth-century art movements after Post-Impressionism, was suddenly whacked by a light bulb annoyingly glowing above my head. Only after the several questions I had asked Mr Hammond, to which I had received identical approaches and not one producing the intellectual fireworks I was expecting; only after starting to listen, really listening, did I finally climb up a new step in spirit and mind.

Mr Hammond considered that such lengthy neurotic digression (my words) and ideas were all certainly very interesting but that he acts on more simple thoughts, all in the sake of a somewhat egotistical state of existence. He just wants to think of himself, a “no” to the discussions and theories of others. Martin Hammond does just what he has to do, he paints what pleases his eye, all of his life undetermined by what others think, unconcerned about others acquiring his paintings or not. And since I’m really only interested in the opinion of artists as they seem to be the only ones to get life, I’m changing my line of thought: No more hassling with finding the adequate art terms! Enough of niche modernist French ideologies! (Ok, there’ve been ideological artists concerned with art criticism but let’s not spoil things...) So I am taught to stop fussing about, to do life the way it brings joy, and one day after tomorrow maybe I will feel happy with my time here. And I believe Martin Hammond feels happy with his time here.

Mr Hammond’s son, Francis, tells me his father has “a secret sense of contentment” in having a family of “four children, thirteen grandchildren and more than ten great-grandchildren” and for them being artists and musicians, all happy and healthy. Martin Hammond was born in Wiltshire, in August 1931, and was brought up in Kent, in South East London. After prep school, at eight years old, he was sent to Eltham College where he stayed for another eight years, ensuring the continuity of his studies during the war and the Blitz. He was interested in the arts since quite young and this was noticed by his mother who started taking him to art galleries. This interest had developed into such a deep fascination by fourteen that, also with his mother’s support, Mr Hammond started to paint. Showing talent for it, he went to the local Bromely School of Art and then to Beckenham School of Art, later winning a scholarship at the prestigious Royal College of Art. After finishing his studies, Martin Hammond started his own family. To provide for them he began teaching from junior classes to art schools, finally settling at his old school, Eltham College, for eighteen years, a time spent developing his own art and a strong interest in ceramics...

Mr Hammond has been living in South London, in the Crystal Palace area, but since the early 1970s he has been visiting La Borne in the Berry region, in Central France, an area with many artists and pottery makers because there, I am told, the clay is of great quality. So, in 1987, he bought a house in the same region and set up a studio with a stunning view of the lights and the colours of the countryside, with its fields and vineyards, that he could—and did—paint many times; and where he could establish a ceramics workshop with a wood fired kiln, that he built from his own ingenuity and design, for the making of stoneware and porcelain. Just recently, he has had a painting accepted by the Royal Academy that sold on the very first day.

Making pottery is, much like with painting, a medium Mr Hammond likes to connect with. One can find a certain practicality about it: it can also be an applied art, one in which he can make lots of teapots and teacups for his loving practice of drinking tea. Making the perfect teapot allows for the making of the perfect cup of tea, as it allows the perfect pouring of the tea—of sublime importance to him.

“Each inch thought
beforehand, no elements
left to chance, and there's
balance, like in nature, in
colour and composition”

When one approaches the product of his work, one can see the preference for bold colours and precise shapes. Each inch thought beforehand, no element left to chance, and there’s balance, like in nature, in colour and composition. His art reminds me of iconic works by iconic artists; and even though when it comes to art he’s seemingly quite a private person, we effortlessly reached the Cézanne topic. To Mr Hammond, Paul Cézanne is by far the best painter, a master indeed, that inspires in him the utmost respect.

It must be taken in consideration that Cézanne has contributed greatly to the evolution of Modernism, producing works that differed drastically from academicist ones. The painter began experimenting in impressionist manner, then becoming a prominent figure with Post-Impressionism, and in the end having taken upon so many styles that his later production prefigured Cubism, inspiring artists like Picasso and Braque. And in my opinion, Cubism, sometimes a very abstract version of it, is quite visible in Mr Hammond’s work. And not just Cubism, I see resemblances to many other styles.

I see the post-impressionist use of unnatural vivid colours for portraying real-life in a geometrically and distorted way; something Cézanne did by reducing natural forms to their fundamental geometry. I see Gauguin’s post-impressionist idea of Synthetism: two-dimensional flat patterns achieved with purity of the line, colour and form—such is the case of “The Talisman” by Sérusier, composed with patches of colours assembled to give the feeling of a landscape in Pont-Aven.

Unpublished photo.

Unpublished photo.

Of Cubism I see simplified broken-up objects being abstractly reassembled; I even spot an extreme form of it, such as the sort practiced by Kupka or the Delaunays. Robert and Sonia Delaunay are known for removing the visible subject matter entirely, in a radical cubist technique called Orphism. They based their work on the optical effects of strong colours set in dynamic geometric patterns; the contrasts and harmonies produced showed simultaneous movements, a sort of mimic of nature. This gave way to Abstract Art, which I also see in the work of Mr Hammond, in the way that abstract work takes liberties in altering colour and form conspicuously and bearing no trace of recognisable subject matter. But one is also likely to find in his work Geometric Abstraction, since here there can be references to naturalistic elements.

Yet as mentioned before none of this seems to bother the artist greatly, who rather enjoys focusing his spare time on other occupations. He enjoys life in the French countryside, building musical instruments and then playing them, executing the classic melodies of those such as Bach or Beethoven. He plays the viola, which is slightly larger than a violin, but not professionally, aside from the occasional presence in a quartet or orchestra. Building the perfect musical instrument and to make it sound perfectly requires an intense process, that only a skilled craftsman can make. And Mr Hammond enjoys doing it, he likes immersing himself in a project that he’s passionate about. There was one time when he got the idea of a lute and not only did he make one himself, he also learnt how to play it.

Mr Hammond loves music. At his atelier at the French house, up high with a beautiful view, he has a record player, for vinyl of course, but also CDs. He has never had digital music. He does not own a mobile phone, nor the internet and e-mail, not even a television. He enjoys reading and has a simple day bed in case a nap is needed. He spends his time reading a lot: an avid consumer of Hemingway, Tolstoy, Eliot, Dostoyevsky, James, Wilde, Hardy and Proust. Mr Hammond has a collection of Proust in French that he has revisited many times. He visits second-hand bookshops and if he finds a good book, he’ll devour it in an instant but if any doesn’t interest him, he’ll ignore it pronto.

In the end, I am taught by the artist that I worry too much about achieving or pleasing a perspective that is not my own. I shan’t be wasting time doing things in a way to please others, I should be wasting it doing things that bring me pleasure and in a way that reflects my own essence. He has gone through life just taking inspiration from this and that, painting, reading and listening to music without really overthinking it. He makes life simple, regards it with ease and treats it with indulgence when it comes to how occupying his time; such should be one’s attitude. Isn’t spending time doing something that amounts to no happiness simply horrible?


Opening spread of the paper version.