Frederick Hammersley

American, 1919 - 2009

Right Slide, 1964, oil on canvas, 38 x 50 1/2 inches


Frederick Hammersley gained first gained critical acclaim in 1959, for his participation in “Four Abstract Classicists”, a show organized by the LACMA. He was one of the four alongside Karl Benjamin, Lorser Feitelson, and John McLaughlin. The show travelled to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Institute of Contemporary Art in London, and Queen’s University in Belfast, Ireland.

Hammersley was born in Salt Lake City in 1919, and subsequently moved with his family to San Francisco, where he took his first art classes. His artistic education continued at numerous institutions. He studied at the University of Idaho from 1936-38, then at the Chouinard Art Institute (Now the California Institute of Arts) in L.A., then Jespon Art Institute, also in L.A. While serving in World War II as an Army sergeant, Hammersley was stationed in Paris, and took the opportunity to attend the Ecole des Beaux Arts after he was discharged in 1945.

Beginning in 1950, Hammersley worked intuitively, employing what he called the “hunch” technique, of starting with a shape, and then instinctively choosing a color. He would continue to build the painting up like this, choosing colors and geometric figures based on “hunches”, and in direct response to the existing forms on the canvas. Art critic Jules Langsner coined this style of flat, crisply delineated geometry, as “hard edge painting”. In 1959, Hammersley switched over to a process that was more calculated—testing compositions and colors in his sketchbook before putting anything to canvas. Hammersley was not limited to painting, and experimented with collage, drawing, watercolor, printmaking, photography, sculpture, mixed media, and “computer drawings”.

Hammersley taught art at a number of schools before settling in Albuquerque New Mexico in 1968, where he finished out his teaching career. In 1971, he retired, and devoted himself full time to his painting. His exhibition career was extraordinarily long-lived, he participated in solo and group shows starting in 1959, and continuing through 2013. He painted right up until his death, in Albuquerque in 2009.