Tom Hammick – Island Life

Tom Hammick ‘Henry’s Cabin, Walden Pond’ 2018, Edition variable reduction woodcut,121 x 155 cm


Exhibition at Rabley Gallery / 17 Nov 17 – 22 Dec 2018

In Tom Hammick’s upcoming exhibition Island Life, images of Henry’s Cabin and the walled utopian garden of Sky Island glow under the same moon as his new woodcut prints inspired by Benjamin Britten’s Sea Interludes. His surreal landscapes evoke feelings of solitude alongside a deep interconnectivity where consciousness looms just over the dream horizon. Hammick’s images are often metaphors for the human condition; reflecting states of mind, transience, fragility and awe. He is inspired by the British Romantic tradition and Eastern culture.

A Way With Colour
Tom Hammick has an international reputation for his stunning and colourful printmaking. His practice often involves working with printing blocks in a painterly style where each print edition can have a completely different feel, mixing new colours for each edition (image above).

Tom Hammick ‘Sea Barn’ 2018, Reduction woodcut, Edition variable of 15, 45 x 60cm

Musical Ekphrasis
While visual artist in residence at the Aldeburgh Festival of music in 2018, Hammick responded to the music of Benjamin Britten’s opera ‘Peter Grimes’ and in particular the four ‘Sea Interludes’ that Hammick refers to as ‘spine-tingling’. In response Hammick created the four prints named after each of the Sea Interludes ‘Dawn’, ‘Sunday Morning’, ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Storm’.

‘In one sense they are the easiest path of least resistance between music and image making for me because they are examples of music, linked to a narrative, that generate such specific visual imagery.’  Tom Hammick (full text below)

Other works inspired by listening to music at Aldeburgh Festival include ‘Henry’s Cabin’, a response to Charles Ives’ 1915 Piano Sonata No 2, Concord Mass., 1840-60.

Tom Hammick cutting a wood block in his studio.

Hammick has exhibited internationally with works in public and private collections around the world including the British Museum; the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Bibliotheque Nationale de France Bank.


Henry’s Cabin
Henry’s Cabin was conjured whilst listening at the Aldeburgh Festival to Charles Ives’ 1915 Piano Sonata No 2, ‘Concord Mass., 1840-60’. The four movements are named after four Transcendentalist thinkers: Emerson, Hawthorne, The Alcotts and Thoreau. They were all influenced by the ravishing landscape around Concord.

Tom Hammick ‘Henry’s Cabin, Walden Pond’ 2018, Oil on canvas, 152 x 183cm

Ives, like Thoreau, was an individualist who valued the self-reliant pioneering spirit of his American forefathers. Both Ives and Thoreau were fiercely independent, and this manifested itself in different ways. Ives had a ‘proper job’ in insurance and made good money. This gave him creative and financial independence when it came to writing music. His compositions are renowned for their complexity and credited with helping to establish a spirit of American music experimentalism. Whilst inhabiting this sense of a uniquely free creative realm, Ives explored themes of human life and reflected and re-imagined everyday activities and events. This can often present a fascinating paradox – commonplace and simple thoughts set within an overwhelming and toweringly complex framework. His ‘Concord Sonata’, for example, matches the scale of Beethoven’s giant ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata. Ives was influenced by Beethoven’s universalism and, as he put it, the ‘soul of humanity knocking at the door of the Divine Mysteries’.

Thoreau’s individualism manifested itself in his real life lonely-ish sojourn in a shack in the woods overlooking Walden Pond where he reflected on mankind’s relationship to nature and wonderment, while discoursing on the possibility of a life without the constraining shackles of society’s conventions and rules.

I hope, while alluding to his introspection as he stares out across the pond from his forest cabin, (which in the Ives’ sonata is reflected by quiet and thoughtful music), I have enabled my images to ask the question of how far an individual needs to go to embody their beliefs, before these convictions turn the loner-protagonist towards anti socialism and then extremism and terrorism? (Read extreme Trump supporters all the way to the Unabomber). In my painting and the woodcuts, while Henry’s stance is contemplative, his camouflage suit could connect him to a whole tradition of Second Amendment fundamentalists, living out on the fringes of society.

The Sea Interludes

These five woodcuts are my first response to the music in the Aldeburgh Festival where I was visual artist in residence in 2018.

The Interludes are evocative spine tingling pieces from the opera Peter Grimes that Benjamin Britten used as reflective passages to conjure the ominous presence and power of the sea at Aldeburgh. They become the gauge of Grimes’ moral standing and an equivalent of a Greek Chorus, as the opera’s tragic trajectory moves to its bleak conclusion.

In one sense they are the easiest path of least resistance between music and image making for me because they are examples of music, linked to a narrative, that generate such specific visual imagery. They are sequential as well which helps. Britten was writing Grimes in part in exile while he was in The States during the first half of the Second World War. He had come across a long poem called The Borough by George Crabbe in a Los Angeles bookshop and used the section about a cruel Aldeburgh fisherman as the basis for his opera. And you could make the connection that his yearning for home on the Suffolk coast, where he had bought a cottage at Snape, combined with the precarious position the UK was in in the early parts of the war., added to the brooding quality of his score.

My woodcuts, uncharacteristically flat and blocky, all in quite muted colours, were influenced by the extreme proximity of the North Sea right outside the print studio window in Aldeburgh. The water, on every day but the brightest, ranged in colour between green primordial sludge and brackish brown! All sorts of shapes of people, on holiday trips, would stand in front of this usually bleak shoreline and look out to the horizon. They inhabit some of these woodcuts as characters in the opera.

Tom Hammick 2018

Sky Garden

Sky Garden is a monumental woodcut in five panels. Oak ply was used to emphasise the grain of the print. A central figure, seen from behind, looks down on a miniature walled garden full of weed-like plants, reminiscent of verdant foregrounds seen in Northern Quattrocento paintings and of an idiosyncratic garden in Japan.

Pictorially, Sky Garden also conjures up the arrangement of organic forms on a flat picture plain found in Matisse’s late cut-outs.

The wide lateral scale of the print, without an externalising horizon from end to end, returns and envelops the image round the spectator. Standing close, in effect the viewer is unable to see the periphery of the image. This hot-wires the viewer to the figure in the woodcut, so that the garden literally becomes an abstracted photo-bleach, reminiscent of a flared after image caused by looking at bright light. In this way, the woodcut becomes as much an internalised vision within the mind, as anything conjured up from reality. The garden is in her head. The garden is in our heads.

Tom Hammick 2018

Tom Hammick ‘Island in Maine’ 2017, Reduction woodcut

Island in Maine

Island in Maine is in part derived from drawings made while staying with friends on Thompson Island, off Port Clyde in Kent County, Maine.

It is one of my favourite places in the world, deeply romantic, a low slung 400-acre mound of tussocky ground accommodating some sheep, an osprey, two houses, a vast barn and some outbuildings. The Eastern side is covered in pitch pine and spruce, with patches of marsh and meadow in-between. No phone signal, several miles out in the Atlantic, it feels wonderfully cut-off and living there is a pretty basic Jack London kind of existence.

My daughter Elsie is here sailing a tiny gaff rigged dingy with her friend Amelia Tucker. I hope the image is in part a celebration of growing up through early teens as they learn to sail and begin to explore away from sight, away from home. It is also in part a metaphor for how as a parent you have to let them go into the wide world, a place that as adults is known to be full of danger beyond the wonderment we feel as children and remember as grown-ups.

The water here is vast and treacherous, with fast currents and a sea-swell that undulates on all but the calmest summer days as the rollers come in from the deep Atlantic.

Andrew Wyeth ‘Christina’s World’ 1948, Egg tempera on gessoed panel. Currently at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Thompson Island is next to Allen Island, where the Wyeth family live. It is the grass in Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World that also, looking back on it, subliminally fed into the marks made as ripples in the sea.

Tom Hammick 2018

Exhibition Information

‘Island life’ opens at Rabley Drawing Centre on November 17th and continues until December 22nd 2018.

View Website Gallery

Opening times: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 10am – 4pm and by appointment Tel. Meryl Ainslie on 01672 511999 or email

Please contact the gallery if you would like a catalogue (we will email it to you). For further information please contact the gallery or visit our website:


Images of Tom Hammick’s artwork © Tom Hammick. Courtesy of Hammick Editions & Flowers Gallery. All rights reserved, Bridgeman Images, 2018

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