An Allegory of Human Emotion

A Conversation with Ben Hammond

Ben Hammond’s interest in artistic pursuits did commence early in his life. Born in 1977, Ben spent early childhood in Pingree, Idaho. He graduated with a degree in illustration from Ricks College. However, it is his fondness of creating sculptural pieces that became evident with every passing day. He won both reputation and accolades through his sculptural work. The lost art of creating reliefs has also received a revival through his work. His efforts in this regard gained recognition and he was awarded the Dexter Jones Award for bas–relief from The National Sculpture Society, 2008 – 2010. He is also the recipient of Charlotte Geffken Prize, Brookgreen Gardens, 2010.

Ben Hammond’s work is not only an elaboration of human forms through sculpture but rather a vessel for storing and expressing the deepest thoughts that lurk within. The bronze models seem to expose their throbbing crimson heart to the audience to behold; they even grant a share of emotions to the audience for their beauty is forever imprinted in the mind’s eye of the viewers.

Take us through your childhood and how experiences therein moulded the artist and human being in you.

I was raised in a very rural community in Southeast Idaho. My father and grandfather had a construction company and my brothers and I worked from a very early age for the company. We learned to work very hard and to take great pride in our hard work.

Family was very important and church was very important. I had three brothers and three sisters and we had to learn how to get along with each other. My mother was a musician and she put great emphasis on us learning to play piano and sing. Most of us had natural artistic abilities, in fact I wasn’t the most talented of my siblings, but I definitely kept at it more than anyone else in the family.

My parents were always very supportive of me pursuing art. When they saw me dedicate more and more time to drawing, they encouraged me to try other mediums. My mother helped me set up a little oil–painting studio in my grandmother’s basement, and also bought me modelling clay to work with. No matter what medium I attempted the subject matter always ended up being the same – people, especially faces.

When were you first drawn to artistic expressions? How your formal training helped in honing your skills?

My mother has little drawings saved from the time I was three years old all the way through grade school. She has written in the margins of those drawings her impressions of how I had a great ability to capture likeness in the people that I drew.

My formal training helped me turn that raw natural ability into a skill set that enables me to be successful consistently.

Job and Friends, Sculpture by Ben Hammond

Figurative sculpture requires an extensive knowledge of human anatomy and at a more abstract level human emotions. How do you train your mind to see and pick up the nuances from a live model to translate it in your work?

It’s not easy. I spent thousands of hours working from live models, doing anatomical studies, and sculpting drapery. Now I feel competent in expressing the human figure in abstract forms and planes without having to think about it in the context of bones, muscles and skin. That makes it a lot easier to focus on the emotion of the figures, or the narrative of the sculpture.

Still, some people look at my work and see it as nothing more than well executed realism, but I always appreciate those that comment on the overall composition, design and emotion of the work–because that is what is most important to me.

What is the medium you like to work with most and how it complements your artistic vision?

I like working in soft oil–based clay because it allows me to build up sculptures quickly and then set it aside and look at it from different perspectives without having to keep it wet and covered up like you do with water–based clays. My ideas are always evolving so it’s nice to be able to work on a sculpture, set it aside for a while, and come back to it whether it’s been a few days, a few weeks or even a few years. Oil clay allows me to do that.

My finished work is cast in Bronze. I love the idea of creating something that could be around for thousands of years. And the fact that the casting process is relatively the same to what it was thousands of years ago is something that always amazes me. It’s a process that technology can’t cheapen or simplify.

My ideas are always evolving so it’s nice to be able to work on a sculpture, set it aside for a while, and come back to it whether it’s been a few days, a few weeks or even a few years.
Autumn, Sculpture by Ben Hammond

As you explore the allegory of nature (summer, autumn, winter and spring) what insight do you gain about changing colours of time?

I love living where we experience the change of seasons, where change comes as matter of temperature and precipitation – a literal physical change, as opposed to just changing dates on a calendar. Change in our lives is inevitable, so we can either embrace it and find beauty in it, or dread it.

Reliefs, which received much attention in the hands of old masters, are somewhat a neglected form of art nowadays. How and when did you feel the inspiration of exploring it? Is there any difference of approach while working with this genre in comparison to traditional figurative work that you undertake?

I really feel that it is a lost art form. A lot of sculptors today think they are sculpting in relief when they are really just splitting a three–dimensional sculpture in two and placing it on a flat surface. In 2005, after visiting the studio and home of Augustus St. Gaudens in Cornish, New Hampshire, I decide that if I wanted to be a great sculptor, I needed to be great at bas–relief sculpture. I took several workshops with Eugene Daub, and he gave me a great foundation that I have built upon with the help of other great teachers and through countless hours of observation.

Relief is different than three–dimensional sculpture. It’s a marriage of sculpture and drawing, where you have sculptural forms that are compressed and exaggerated with drawing perspective.

Busy Mom, Sculpture by Ben Hammond
Busy Mom

Some of your work displays the intimacy of a moment often witnessed within a family environment, such as in Mother’s Cherished Moment or Busy Mom. How do you develop a narrative for such a sculpture?

For me, these themes come very natural to me. I had a lot of fun growing up in a family and I love being a husband and a father. I’m kind of a ‘silver linings’ type of person, so even though much of family life and raising children is difficult and exhausting, I see a lot of deep joy and happiness in the responsibility of parenthood, particularly in motherhood.

John Randle, Sculpture by Ben Hammond

You created a series of portraits for Pro Football Hall of Fame. How was the experience like? Does it ever feel limiting or constraining while working on a commissioned project?

It’s actually nice to just create something really straightforward like a portrait. You know whether it’s done because it either looks like them, or it doesn’t. I usually have the opportunity to have the inductee sit for me, so it’s fun to get to know them a little bit and try to translate their personality into a portrait sculpture. Plus I’m a huge football fan, and these are the best to have ever played the game, so it’s something I look forward to every year.

From and beyond the world of art whom do you consider your greatest source of learning and inspiration?

God. I believe he is the source of my ability and gives me strength to live each day, so I want to create art that is beautiful and uplifting.

If you are requested to sculpt your journey thus far what form would it take?

It would take the form of family. As much as I love to create sculpture and have people tell me that my art inspired them, or comforted them, or brings them joy, it is secondary to being a husband and a father. Lucky for me though, I get to be a family man and an artist.

Portrait of Ben Hammond

For Ben Hammond home is where the heart is. He loves going back to Idaho where he grew up and still has his kin. He is fanciful of visiting Florence, Italy ‘every other week’ if he could afford. He likes reading David McCullough’s biography of John Adams. Original Star Wars, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark still tickle his imagination. His favourite band of all time is The Cure though he admires and listens to other types of music as well. As for his favourite food, ‘I love all food that health experts deem as unhealthy … cheeseburgers, pizza, steak and fried chicken.’

Find more of his work at http://www.benhammondfineart.com/

Image Courtesy: Ben Hammond