Bill Hammond

Boulder Bay, 2001

    • Bill Hammond, Boulder Bay 4, 2001

Boulder Bay, facing out to sea from Banks Peninsula, is a place for primary school field trips. A place where children yelling to each other clamber over boulders to explore rock pools filled with tender sea anemones, barnacles and starfish. It is all blue sea and blue sky accompanied by the din of waves on rocks and the screeching of seagulls overhead.

Hammond’s Boulder Bay evokes a different geography. Hammond’s bay inhabitants don’t yell, nor do they peer down into rock pools, timidly poking and nudging underwater life. Hammond’s figures wait and watch. Their screeching, speaking, calling, sighing, growling takes place inaudibly to human ears. This rocky shore is a spectral space, both waiting room and jumping off point.

Hammond creates a sliding zone between being human and being avian. Things could be slipping either way, like the ebb and flow of a tide on the turn. A pale white bird silhouette balances upside down on the head of the seated bird-human like a holy flame, a puff of smoke, a premonition. A pink figure shares a tear with the large grey bird above, while holding a leader’s baton or a rolled message in arms-becoming-clawed-legs. These two figures hold the key. They are the ones who will call others to this place. The waiting is inexorable. Everything is so still, calm; and the forms are so slippery, it is like watching a sleeping figure to see if they are still breathing.

Legions of Bill’s birds have waited on shorelines before. The birds waiting for Buller always seemed ready to tear the explorer apart, beak and claw, if he ever returned. Here it is not Buller, but dark, slug-like creatures, a horse’s head with craning neck and angel- and bat-winged figures which set their flight path, drifting away from, or perhaps towards the shore. If they are humans becoming bird, what will they experience here once their transformation is complete? If we know, we do not have words to tell it yet.

Published in Important New Zealand Paintings, 22 November 2007, Art+Object The 21st Century Auction House, Auckland, pp70-71.

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