10 Questions | Joseph Hammer


How did you get started? Rather unconventionally. I was a late bloomer. I always liked art, visited galleries, museums, exhibits, bought and sold prints---but never, ever made art. Then, in my early fifties, I saw some collages that took my breath away, and I said to myself “I have to try that!” As Bill Davis later put it, “The dam broke!” Did it ever! It was an obsession. I attended one collage exhibit seven times. I made at least one collage a week for several years, and I found my voice as they say, using old hard back books, which satisfied my fascination with history, words, and time itself.

Who or what has had a major influence on you as an artist? I was encouraged that my work was worth selling by Lance Letscher, whom I consider a master of the collage technique. Also by Malou Flato, who was the first person to buy one of my works. And Bill Davis has been supportive ever since I brought in one of my first pieces to be framed and got acquainted with this wonderful gallery. He is undoubtedly without peer among Austin gallerists, and I am grateful for his ongoing support.

Describe a typical day in the studio. Since I have a day job, my typical “days” are nights and weekends! Last summer, I spent every night and weekend for three months getting ready for my fall show with the talented Lisa Beaman. I tend to get an idea completely formed in my head, cut the pieces for it, lay it out and paste it up. Depending upon the project, some parts of the process take much longer than others. But generally, and probably surprisingly, the laying out of the design is the fastest part…the cutting the longest. I have callouses to prove that. And pasting!--- that can take many, many hours--- some of my collages have more than a thousand pieces….

If you weren’t an artist, what would you be? Probably a historian of some sort. My other love is genealogy. Old books and their patina of age and use bring to mind the many people who owned them. I like to Google the addresses written in books that are 100+ years old and see where these people lived, if the houses are still standing….try to get to know them. My collages are from the heart--- an elegy to times gone by--- and a tribute to the writers and book binders and readers of long ago.

When, if ever, do you feel like a piece is finished? The standard answer is--- and has to be---when an extra piece wouldn’t add anything to the composition. I would clarify by saying that I stop when I think that adding an extra piece would create a work that is overdesigned, which I consider the main shortcoming of many artistic creations today, be it architecture, fashion, etc.

What was your first job? One job was cutting up chicken at KFC while in college. As I recall, it was nine pieces per fryer. Ironically, though I used a ban saw in that job, my most important art tool now is a pair of poultry scissors, which I use to cut those old decaying books.

Single best invention in your opinion. Movable type, what else? Gutenberg is one of my heroes.

What item would you be lost without? Books --- in any form—paper or digital. I am a bookworm. No apologies.

Tell us a bit about your new work in the show. Though you might not recognize it, much was inspired by a specific school of the Art Nouveau period, the Wiener Werkstaette group in Vienna, which was a forerunner of the Bauhaus movement a decade later in Germany. Both movements concentrated on design across the board—in art, architecture, household implements, furniture, etc.

Most important question: who would you say has the best margarita in town? Hula Hut. Hands down. And yes, that is important.




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