The various bodies who inhabit Lewis Hammond’s paintings operate as a kind of self-portraiture. Any fixed identity or reading is allusive however, slipping in and out of the shadows. In the dislocated or dissolving architectural spaces depicted a feeling of claustrophobia dominates. Neither night nor day the viewer is invited to enter a vacuum in time, more an evocation of a mental state than a solid location.
The bars on the window in Safe Haus (2019) are barbed with thorns, perhaps protecting the couple that lay together tenderly on the bed of their cell, or maybe trapping them forever. The cold, lifeless blues of the interior contrast with the hot red hues emanating from the subjects’ skin. With a dark palette that takes inspiration from Old Masters such as Ribera, Goya and Caravaggio, and motifs that allude to half-human half-animal mythic creatures, Hammond’s work taps into ancient narratives and associations.
The paintings also speak directly to the complexity of contemporary lived experience. Connecting to his biography and Black heritage Hammond subtly responds to the ways in which the European tradition ‘others’ that which is not white. The paintings, whose titles are often borrowed from music lyrics and poetry, also contain the atmosphere of alienation and disaffection found in skate or punk subcultures, a scene Hammond was part of when growing up in Wolverhampton. Hammond approach to painting is wide-ranging and historically astute, but also intensely personal, producing, as he describes them, ‘sideways reflections’ on life’s complexities.