Frederick Hammersley and the Computer

An upcoming Huntington show will touch on Frederick Hammersley's role as pioneer and prophet of digital art. After moving to New Mexico, Hammersley produced a group of 70-some "computer drawings" with Art1, one of the first software applications for artists. It ran on an IBM mainframe, with the artist supplying instructions on punch cards. As Hammersley told Lawrence Weschler,

"I would write out what I wanted to be done, and then I would go to the computer center and look at the information and then type it out, resulting in the punched cards. I’d give it to the little man behind the door, and five minutes later, I’d get this drawing back. I’d sit down and make a change and give it to him…. It was like eating peanuts. I mean, one thing would lead to another, and you just kept on chewing."

The computer drawings are ASCII art, as we'd call it now. Ironically they seem less hard-edged than Hammersley's hand-made paintings.  The painter achieved shimmering, trippy effects from a meager palette of periods, apostrophes, dashes, underscores, and O's.
Frederick Hammersley, JELLY CENTERS, #31, 1969, from one incomplete set of the series of 72, computer-generated drawing on paper, 11 x 15 in. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, gift of the Frederick Hammersley Foundation. © Frederick Hammersley Foundation
Did his experiment with computers affect his better-known output? There should be cause to ponder that as "Frederick Hammersley: To Paint Without Thinking" (Oct. 21, 2017– Jan. 22, 2018) will include paintings, drawings, sketchbooks, lithographs, and color swatches. The show will have a catalog.
Frederick Hammersley, Like unlike, #6, 1959, oil on linen, 49 × 40 in. Private collection. © Frederick Hammersley Foundation


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