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Jonathan Hammer / MATRIX 156

February 15, 1993 - April 15, 1993

Where has all the time gone?, 1992

Download the exhibition brochure (PDF).

Jonathan Hammer exploits his skill in the ancient art of bookbinding to bring together the work of contemporary artists and writers. This exhibition presents four groups of recent work: books combining prose by Dennis Cooper with paintings by Lari Pittman, poetry by Joseph Lease with paintings by Richmond Burton, Garcia Lorca poetry with paintings by Alexis Rockman, and books incorporating paintings by Robert Kushner. While Hammer typically works in series, each book is unique, containing original paintings and texts, usually handwritten by the author. Hammer's own role in these projects is to select the artists and writers, facilitate their collaboration, and design and bind the books themselves. He integrates a wide spectrum of media and talents that are both unified and highlighted by his own artistic contributions.

Hammer endows his books with extraordinary richness and vitality: his bindings are as compelling as the texts and images within. In keeping with the lush and sometimes irreverent quality of the art and writing he conjoins, Hammer utilizes a variety of materials from gold and palladium leaf to Japanese silks to frog, shark, lizard and Chinese-lacquered stingray skins. Often composed in elaborate arrangements of high-keyed colors and jumbled shapes, Hammer's bindings tread a fine line between over-the-top vulgarity and the invigorating free-spiritedness of a baroque sensibility.

Although the form of Hammer's work is virtually unique, it does have historical precedents dating back to the Middle Ages when fine, hand-written and sumptuously illustrated volumes such as the Book of Kells or the Limbourg brothers' Tr?s riches heures du Duc de Berry were as common an art form as wall-mounted paintings. "Indeed," according to Bruce Davis, Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, "when we refer to painting before the thirteenth century, we are usually speaking about books."1 A more recent influence on Hammer is the tradition of the livre d'artite (artist's book). This art form was especially popular in Paris in the nineteen twenties and thirties when many poets and painters collaborated, especially among the Surrealist group. However, Hammer also distances himself from the livre d'artiste by emphasizing the "sculptural intent" of his work: "The books...strive for a parity between the 'text,' the 'visual works on paper,' and the 'structure/binding.'"2

"Within the tension created by collaboration," says Hammer, "these unique books attempt to address the possibilities of generosity in art making."3

Jonathan Hammer was born in 1960 in Chicago. He graduated from Bard College and studied bookbinding at the London College of Printing and with Romilly Saumerez Smith and Monique Lallier. He currently lives and works in San Francisco.

Lawrence Rinder

1 Bruce Davis, "Jonathan Hammer at Shea & Bornstein, 5 December-11 January," Art Issues, Feb./Mar. 1992, p. 31.
2 Jonathan Hammer, unpublished artist's statement, 1992.
3 Ibid.

MATRIX is supported in part by grants from the Paul L. and Phyllis Wattis Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Council, Mrs. Paul L. Wattis, and Alexandra Bowes and Jack Hanley.