Meet

Thomas Hammer

Where are you from and where do you reside?
Over the past ten years I’ve lived in just about every neighborhood in New York City: Washington Heights, Williamsburg, Hells Kitchen, the West Village, the East Village, and (believe it or not) the Upper East Side. I’ve had studios in Long Island City and Bushwick, so those almost count too. I currently live in Harlem. I grew up in Ithaca, NY and was adopted from Seoul, South Korea.
Your artistic output can be divided between two different bodies of work—do you see the two relating? Does the decision-making behind the work differ or is it similar?
I think they’re both similar in that they were born out of experimentation.
Your works on linen are more textural and incorporate color, so how do you decide when and when not to work with color?
I always start my works on canvas with black and white. I only add color at the very end. It’s kind of like when a portrait artist adds highlight to the pupil of the subject’s eye to bring a face to life. Color adds a whole other dimension to the emotive qualities of a painting. It feels premature for me to start with it, when I’m not yet sure what direction the work will take.

Do you see your works as unique or as part of a series?
Both. I work on each piece without thinking about relating it to another, but I’ll often borrow and remix elements from existing works, which is how the body of work evolves. It isn’t until after all the works are complete that I propose a series for a show.
What necessities do you require when making your art?
My podcasts and music, a sturdy roll masking tape, a smooth floor, bright white paper, some heavy textured linen, inks, paints, and my airbrush.
How do you choose your materials?
Through trial and error, I’ve learned about the physical and optical properties of the materials I use. It’s only through experimentation and mistake-making that I know when to go back into a wet canvas and when to let it sit for an hour or two. It’s like that for all the variables I actively manipulate. For the ones I don’t, I guess that’s random chance.
You have a distinctive brush you made yourself for your large ink works - how did you come up with the design? Was there any trial and error?
When I first started experimenting with ink, I found that foam brushes made very nice streaky lines. I wanted the same qualities, but much bigger, so I had to design my own implement. Thankfully all the necessary materials were at the hardware store.

Slant
I’ll often borrow and remix elements from existing works, which is how the body of work evolves. — Thomas Hammer
Describe a typical day in the studio for you.
I tend to work in short bursts of energy on a few pieces at once, mostly because I work in layers and each one has to dry before I can move onto the next. So my day is spent moving from one work to another and responding to emails and text messages in between.
What is the most difficult part of the artistic process for you?
My process makes my mind feel like it’s doing wind sprints. It’s easy for my brain to feel like it’s spinning out of control. It’s important for me to embrace my attention deficit, but also remain centered. I think in my best work the outcome almost seems inevitable. But in most of my paintings, there’s a moment or a few weeks, where an outcome seems impossible. Sometimes it’s important to bulldoze through those tough spells. Sometimes you have to wait them out. The most difficult part is knowing when to do what.
What’s the role of chance in your process?
I’m not really sure what the distinction is between chance and quick decision making, but my ink works involve some combination of both. I’m interested in depicting the subconscious, so it’s not always clear where the ideas are coming from. Often intuition. But I do know that I’m inspired by the culture around me and the constant bombarded with visually stimuli - subway ads, graphic design, ever changing fashion, architecture, an endless stream of pedestrians and cars, our decaying infrastructure. I think all that stuff finds its way into my work, just jumbled up like in a dream and filtered through my painterly vocabulary. I wonder what my art would look like after a retreat into nature.
Slant
I think in my best work the outcome almost seems inevitable. But in most of my paintings, there’s a moment, or a few weeks, where an outcome seems impossible. — Thomas Hammer
Do you ever see elements of your work in web design come out in painting, or vice versa?
Those experiences are there, but maybe not explicitly. My work is informed by graphic design software, like Photoshop. Those programs make an even gradient or a perfect geometric shape as easy to create as the click of a button. I think it pushes painters a bit further and disrupts a narrative where abstraction reduces form to the point it closes in on itself. It feels liberating and an exciting time to push boundaries, but also an easy time to fall into a trap of creating derivative work. I will admit that for a brief time I tried to paint web browsers, emojis, and over-wrought drop shadows. They were dumb.
Where do you find your day-to-day inspiration?
It’s a cocktail shaker with everything in my field of vision, memory, personal biases, television, books and magazines, recent gallery visits. I don’t use sketches or image references anymore. The work seems more honest without those intermediaries.
Are you formally trained?
Sort of? I’ve taken a few photography and figure drawing classes. I signed up for them, but didn’t find the answers I was looking for through those assignments. I did learn important technical skills and improved my critical eye, but I’ve been more interested in experimenting on my own terms and following my own interests. It’s a combination of that and seeing the work of artists whom I really admire.
How has your work developed in the past few years, and how do you see it evolving in the future?
My work has gotten much more focused. Before, I spent much more time spinning through ideas. I’ve developed a consistent visual vocabulary, which I’m constantly expanding on. I hope the work helps me uncover even more areas of the mind. I have no idea what that will look like manifest as an image. As the culture changes, I’m sure my work will too.

More From Thomas Hammer

More from Meet

Browse Artist Interviews
A81bea31 252d 44d2 ad71 50e12d106c1e
Meet Giulia Palombino

Giulia Palombino tells us about her influences - from Japanese Television to Brazilian literature - and being confused in a good way.

More from the Journal

Browse Posts
7076d767 f1fc 48f8 a8e7 4b173a73d3e1
At Home A SoHo apartment in the clouds

This light-filled, open floor plan duplex is transformed into a modern environment by our friends at Studio DB.