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The Independent October 2005

October 2005

Tom Hammick is one of those rare artists who appeal to the uninitiated and the sophisticated art viewer alike. This is his sixth solo show at the Eagle Gallery in Farringdon, in which he revisits his love of the Canadian wilderness - a landscape that was the subject of his first exhibition with the gallery in 1995.

The recent paintings and related suite of etchings and dry points are the result of a three-month residency at The Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador(AGNL). During his stay, he visited the national parks of Terra Nova and Gross Morn, as well as many of the remote coastal areas along the eastern shore,the sort of locations that many have come to know through E Annie Proulx’s evocative novel The Shipping News.

Hammick celebrates the raw quality of this remote landscape. There is a sense of time standing still and of older rhythms being unpicked that once underpinned lives dependent on the now diminishing stocks of cod and crab. His paintings convey not only the dramatic terrain but the frontier mentality of existences heavily dependent on the transport of boats and trucks to impose civilisation on to brute nature.

Ordinary venues, such as a gas station set behind tall pines, are transformed into lyrical poetic spaces. A trawler appears wedged between a mushroom-coloured hill and solid pink sea like something out of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, while a truck parked in a lay-by, set against a pink ground and surrounded by icy green trees, evokes the sort of magical realism often associated with the Canadian artist Peter Doig. Hammick reflects the sense of quiet decay of lives lived on the edge and the loss of traditional skills that have given way to industries such as tourism. Colour and space dominate. He favours velvety midnight blues, flamingo pinks, and cool greens and greys, a palette not dissimilar to that of the Scottish artist Craigy Aitchison. In this environment of lakes and forests, of extreme weather,the landscape still has power to dominate the little, isolated homesteads that nestle in the crook of hills or by vast lakes. These lyrical works explore man’s place within the scheme of things.

This is as close to the sublime as a modern figurative painter can get without becoming sentimental. A tiny green fishing boat, isolated against a navy sea and sky, where the horizon line is denoted by a thread of pale blue and the quay by a single brown rectangle outlined in pink, becomes a Thoreau-like metaphor man’s relationship with the wilderness.

A skilled printmaker,Hammick investigates the interplay between the graphic line and printmaking, interweaving media to explore his subject matter so that a painted image inspires the etchings and dry points,while the contours of a woodcut will find resonance in a painting.