Gregory Hammond: Visions from Life

An Interview with Gregory Hammond

by Robin Gary

Welcome back to our third year of Texas Clay Art Association’s Featured Artist Series.
We start our year off with clay sculptor, Gregory Hammond as our March/April Featured Artist. Living in Austin, he dedicates himself to clay adventures while working two jobs. If you live in the area, you might recognize him from Armadillo Clay. His work is adventurous. Shape, color, surface, title and, if you’re lucky enough to catch Gregory in conversation, the backstory, THE BACKSTORY, together draw you into the experience of his sculpture.

It’s true, I know Gregory because I also work out of Fireseed Clay Art Studios. It’s true that once I saw his work, I suggested that he apply to the call for entry for TCAA Featured Artist Series. It’s probably even true, that I reminded him monthly that he should apply. That’s where my influence stops though. The rest is all Gregory. Oh wait, I wanted to be sure he had good photos for the online exhibit so we did do that together last week.

You are working out of Fireseed Clay Art Studios in Austin. How did you come to work in clay?

Clay came into my life at the age of fifteen. In my early teens I had aspired toward the sciences until I decided I wanted to delve into glasswork. But, with classes or studios available, I started taking my first ceramics class at South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia Washington. To this day, I still have yet to work with glass.

What brought you to Austin?

Curiosity. I graduated from The Evergreen State College with a BA in Contemporary and Experimental Music but with no interest in pursuing a career in said field. After a year or so of drifting and traveling around the west coast and Hawaii, I decided to move to Austin for nine months. That was in 2012. I have been here for three years.

Why Fireseed Clay Art Studios?

I love Fireseed studios. Ceramics and community often go hand in hand, and I feel community is a big part of what Fireseed embodies. I can go into the studio, be social and chatty or I can pop on my headphones and concentrate. It is a comfortable and supportive environment for me to explore my medium.

Tell us about your path to creating your figurative sculptures.  

I began practicing sculpture with the intention of using what I learned to compliment my functional thrown work. The result was the most significant change in myself as an artist since I first began to work with clay. Unlike most things in my life, I had an immediate aptitude for the process. Before my first piece was finished, I knew sculpture was my calling. I work with the figure because to engage the figure artistically is a very human pursuit. As an artist, I am allowed to effectively shape how the figure is interpreted. Sculpting the figure allows us to decide how our bodies and human bodies are represented. I find that very empowering.

Who and what have influenced you as far as style and subject?

My instructors have been a huge influence, of course. I find I have direct and indirect influences and inspiration. For my direct inspiration, I spend much of my time absorbing a broad spectrum of media, from pop music to art house film to graphic novel. I am always listening to NPR in the car.
My best work comes from life experience - people I’ve met and the experiences we have shared together. I find that Influence and Inspiration are two very different sides of the same coin. Everyday and every experience both influence and inspire me. It can’t not.   

You've taken several courses at different art schools here in Austin. James Tisdale has been an influence in your current body of work. What are you looking for from these courses and instructors?

I am looking to learn from experienced artists. I know that I can learn something new from every artist that I study with or under but I am very picky about my teachers. I want my teachers to have professional experience in the art world. This experience assures me that they are driven, thoughtful and genuine about their work and they will have that certain mind set that will help me grow as an artist. That said, I will always take the opportunity to learn. A true artist never stops practicing their craft. As a person I will always strive to be better, so I will always be studying well after my masters and into my career.                                                    

What are the steps from idea to finished piece?

The idea starts with a few short sketches that quickly moves off the paper. A lot changes as I am creating the final piece. Improvisation and last minute decision are often what will make or break (sometimes literally) one of my pieces. If a piece isn't working I will break it. I have a very destructive creative process.

What is your most significant success and what is your most formidable challenge as you work these days?

I enjoy working large. Scale is something I take into consideration with my pieces. Not only do I enjoy working larger, I find large-scale work to be very appropriate for my subject matter. However, working large is very challenging in clay. I have lost large pieces, trying and failing to keep them balanced. However I very recently finished construction on my first piece over two feet tall.

Who are some of your favorite clay sculptors near and far from whom you draw inspiration?

Arthur Gonzales has been a long time favorite. James Tisdale and Melissa Mencini of course. I remember seeing James' work in "500 figures in clay" when I first started working with clay. I love Tom Bartel, I feel solidarity in our off kilter work. I also have to mention the illustrators Brian Froud and Ralph Steadman, though not clay artists and both very different artists. Both have influenced me greatly.

I understand that you are looking for a post-bac program on your way to a master’s program. What are you looking for in the post-bac experience?

I am anxious to get back to school. There is so much information I want and so many skills that I feel a need to learn. I have so many ideas and projects, both inside and outside my medium, that I think school will give me the direction and space to achieve. A post-bac program will give me a lot of the practical and technical knowledge I feel I need to complete my goals. Not to mention how much my work will develop whilst I am able to immerse myself in my medium.

Any suggestions for aspiring clay artists? Motivational, of course.

You get out of it what you put into it. Put in the work and the results may surprise you. Raw talent will only get you so far, it is grit and perseverance that will get you where you want to go.  Of course, that is good advice for anyone trying to achieve his or her goals.

Gregory's Artwork | Gregory's Profile Page

Texas Clay Arts Association 2014

Images in header (from left): Annie Foster, Karmien Bowman, Mimi Bardagjy

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