Visual Arts Mentor Valerie Hammond in Show at Planthouse Gallery

Mădălina Telea Borteș
March 24, 2023

Wonderland, an exhibition devoted to Visual Arts Mentor Valerie Hammond and Lothar Osterburg’s discourse on the natural world and imaginary cities, is on view until April 8, 2023 at Planthouse Gallery. 

The gallery’s light-filled space has been transformed into an indigo blue, silvery, and blue-gray dreamland populated by bats, owls, doves, and sculptures made of found hornets' and wasps' nests, branches, and glass. 

Immediately to the left of the entrance, one encounters Hammond's Laurel (2023), a variegated life-sized cast of feet that extend mid-way up to calves that open out into a whizz of branches. Laurel is constructed from a wasp’s nest, paper, glass, and branches. The sculpture stands sixty-five inches tall, thirty inches around, and twenty-four across. It is majestic, fragile, and ornate without feeling ornamental. 

Framed around this piece are several more of Hammond’s works, rendered on indigo-dyed Japanese Gampi paper, as well as three other sculptures. While the profound attention to detail is apparent in every piece on display, more striking is Hammond’s ability to provoke a lasting sense of awe and dignity. Each of the animals she has diligently etched on the handmade indigo-dyed Gampi paper stand, or fly, or hang complete within themselves. 

For instance, Chimera (Owl, Rainbow) (ink and watercolor on handmade indigo-dyed Gampi paper, 19 in. x 25 ½ in., 2023), presents a self-assured owl, its eyes piercing through the inky blue surrounding it, and in Chimera (Flying Dove) (ink and watercolor on handmade indigo-dyed Gampi paper, 19 in. x 25 ½ in., 2023), one cannot help but smile in appreciation of the dove’s full-bodied, coy display of its underwings. 

By hand-dyeing the sheets of Gampi paper, Hammonds has managed to imbue a variety of hues, textures, and traces of movement into each composition, leading to an effect that is difficult to shake off. Walking through the gallery’s space, one feels as though the hares, owls, and bats are appearing on their own volition, gifting the viewer with their spontaneous presence. 

Valerie Hammond maintains a fluid artistic practice, distinguishable for her organic approach and deft interaction with different mediums. In all of her work, there is play between the material and the immaterial, the physical and the spiritual: the dichotomy between what is seen and the sensation it provokes. Hammond’s work can be found in both private and public collections such as the Walker Art Center, the Library of Congress, The Fine Arts Museum Houston, The Progressive Art Collection, the Fidelity Collection, the New York Public Library’s print and drawing collection, The Chazen Museum, The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, The Grand Palais Museum, Paris and the Getty Museum.