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Under the art radar?

Alex Hamilton

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About Alex Hamilton

Born: 1958, Adelaide, Australia

Lives and works in London and Melbourne

Education

1989: Diploma of Adult Education, University of Melbourne, Australia
1982: Diploma, Canberra School of Art, Canberra, Australlia

Why we like this artist >

Great artists whose work deserves wider recognition: there are plenty of them, and in this section of artbroth we aim to showcase established names whose work really should be - and may well become - far better known.

Why we like this artist

Alex Hamilton is very much an insider's artist , his drawings admired by other artists, curators and critics (at least in the UK, where he has lived for many years, and Australia, where he was born), but little known by a wider public.

A pity, because Hamilton's work is powerful stuff, improbably poised between the mundane and the marvellous; the kind of imagery that, once seen, lingers in the memory.

His cityscapes (grouped generically here, but in fact deriving from various series including Fourth Plinth Drawings, Crossroads and In Space We Trust) are based, literally, on enlarged photocopies of black and white photos depicting the kind of unremarkable urban setting found almost anywhere in the world: drab, concrete office blocks; a petrol station nestled beside pavements and highway; a rudimentary sprinkling of town planning trees.

Hamilton then sets to work modifying and reorganising the space, obliterating or altering existing structures while freely adding his own. He paints out walls and constructs extensions; alters footpaths and inks in towers with an uncomfortable resemblance to upturned missiles.


Alex Hamilton, drawings

Crossroads 2, 2006. Pen ink, charcoal pencil, pastel, watercolour, airbrush on Canson watercolour paper.


These architectural impositions are not merely spatial in the orthodox sense: they convey an emotive, psychologically driven translation of the urban experience in which logical sightlines and perspectives are subtly ruptured and compromised.

Buildings lose their familiar appearance, converted into improbable hybrids of futuristic design and bog-standard Brutalism. Automobiles distend as if warped by an unknown physics. The drawing becomes, simultaneously, a site of the actual, possible and impossible; an effect that is disconcerting, even sinister (Hamilton was doing Ballardian long before it became a buzzword in recent art).

Hamilton's 'Wave Drawings', although very different in appearance, also employ photocopied photographs as a starting point, and again, despite this underlying mimetic presence, subject existing form to intense revision.

Sequences of rhythmic marks echo the sea's natural movement, but are imbued with strange solidities; tuber-like excrescences within an emotionally-charged, writhing body of water.

Reminiscent at times of Japanese or Mediaeval woodcuts (themselves a reflection of very different modes of perception), Hamilton's exquisite flurries of flume and water are renditions of essence, more wave-like than waves themselves.

Interestingly, too, the potential infinity of these works - not only in terms of a frequently revisited series, but as a physical expanse akin to the sea itself - is thrown into relief by their frequent execution on multiple sheets of overlapping paper.

Highlighting the possibility of endless addition and change, this working method obliquely reflects the reconstructive urge intrinsic to Hamilton's cityscapes.

Equally, the fact that some of the drawings are more reminiscent of intricate land mass than watery surface leads to another overlap: a sense of liquid as terrain, in turn informing the physical liquidity of Hamilton's urban landscape; and finally, the frequent presence in these same cityscapes of inexplicable torrents and flurries of water, a spillage and stream of connection from one body of work to another.


Alex Hamilton, drawings

Wave drawing


Indeed, a consistent concern with fluidity versus the concrete seems to lie at the heart of Hamilton's practice, a unifying principle that is as flexible as its premise - and the stylistic diversity of his output - might suggest.

Consequently, a further variation of this theme underpins his ongoing Newspaper works.

Instantly recognisable as representations of a front page, the text and photos are nevertheless replaced by cartoonish pictures and glyphs that imply an obscure, though tantalisingly suggestive, significatory system.

Clearly denying the expected functionality of a standard newspaper, the works confront and challenge the hegemony of written (and by default, verbal) language as a means of imparting the 'truth' of experience.

This familiar, albeit endlessly complex, enquiry is simplified by Hamilton into an immediately accessible notion: the so-called objectivity of news coverage.

Are the 'factual' accounts promised by various scions of the Press any less slippery than the artist's modified waves or subjectively rearranged cities?

We know, of course, that the reporting of current events in fact differs widely, and Hamilton reflects this understanding by choosing to portray actual newspapers - among them, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and International Herald Tribune - each of which evidence significant variations in editorial policy and tone.

Hamilton's drawn content, however, appears to remain consistent across titles, asserting the the validity of a purely visual language and its rendition of a predominantly subjective, paradoxically more truthful, world view.

In the artist's own words, "Columns and picture squares of newspapers are easily recognised universal systems. Even when newspaper formats are used for something as unsuitable as drawing, these formats can still trigger shared memories. We can still imagine and play back in our heads some sort of news content to fit inside them...."

Fitting the content of the imagination into a pre-defined, specific space is, perhaps, an apt enough overview of all Hamilton's work. And as we've seen, if this space proves too limiting, he simply reshapes it to accommodate his vision.

Mike Brennan

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