New Mexico Museum of Art

New Mexico Museum of Art Presents Frederick Hammersley: To Paint without Thinking

May 09, 2018


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—May 9, 2018 (Santa Fe, NM): The New Mexico Museum of Art is pleased to announce an exhibition about the work and working methods of Frederick Hammersley will be on view from May 26, 2018 through Sept. 9, 2018. Frederick Hammersley: To Paint without Thinking looks at the artist’s meticulous record keeping as a significant aspect of his practice, and features over 60 objects, pairing items from Hammersley’s archives with seven paintings, including the New Mexico Museum of Art’s recently conserved Couplet, #15 1965(1968), and The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens’ See saw, #3 1966. It also includes dozens of other works, including lithographs, silkscreens, and computer drawings from the collections of The Huntington, New Mexico Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Palm Springs Art Museum, and Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

The exhibition was originally curated for The Huntington by James Glisson, Bradford and Christine Mishler Associate Curator of American Art at The Huntington, and Alan Phenix, Getty Conservation Institute scientist. The curators were inspired by recent gifts to the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles by the Frederick Hammersley Foundation. They used the artist’s notebooks, color samples, and logs as a starting point to research and understand the artist and his work.

“We are delighted to be able to present this exhibition to our audiences in New Mexico,” said Merry Scully, Head of Curatorial Affairs, and Curator of Contemporary Art at the New Mexico Museum of Art. “The exhibition is a sort of homecoming celebration for Frederick Hammersley (1919-2009), who spent the last and most productive decades of his life in New Mexico. “

This carefully researched, imaginative show will be particularly well received here in New Mexico where the artist lived for so long. The artist moved to Albuquerque, in 1968 to take a teaching position at the University of New Mexico. Prior to this move, Frederick Hammersley was in Southern California and became recognized as one of four innovative artists known as the Abstract Classists. These Post-War California artists were noted for their crisp, hard-edged abstractions. Their paintings were cool, balanced, and measured, a stark contrast to the Abstract Expressionism popular at the time.

The New Mexico Museum of Art had a longstanding relationship with Hammersley, and holds a comprehensive collection of his artwork, everything from an early student work, computer drawings and punch cards, to prime examples of his fully mature paintings, and archival materials and color studies. The exhibition will include twelve additional works from the New Mexico Museum of Art collection not included in the original exhibition at The Huntington. These works include a series of small lithographs in artist-made frames, two additional paintings, and an early set of silkscreens.

Exhibition curator James Glisson explores how testing and recording influenced the creation of the artist’s work, looking in particular at Hammersley’s early experiments with computer-generated drawings and a series of hundreds of investigative lithographs created in 1949 and 1950. Glisson suggests that utilizing process and setting rules may have functioned as a strategy of production in that it freed the artist to “paint without thinking.” Co-curator Alan Phenix’s interest lies in the artist’s deliberate choices and exacting documentation of the materials he used. The granularity of Hammersley’s recordkeeping provides an entry into the artists’ process that is of particular appeal to a conservation scientist. 

Highlights of the Hammersley archives include his notebooks and sketchbooks, in which the artist developed compositions over a period of decades. In these books, he generally used a two-stage process, first composing postage stamp-sized images—sketched out in pencil, colored pencil, or ballpoint pen—then selecting compositions to execute on a larger scale, sometimes in oil paint.

“These sketchbooks served as a forum for exploration and a wellspring from which he drew throughout his long career,” said James Glisson, “It is like peeking over his shoulder to see him at work, altering a color or two, adding or subtracting a line, then moving on.”

There is a comprehensive set of lectures and activities that will run in connection with this exhibition.

Exhibition catalog Frederick Hammersley: To Paint without Thinking (ISBN 978-0-9986817-1-9), a boldly illustrated catalog edited by James Glisson, Bradford and Christine Mishler Associate Curator of American Art at The Huntington, with contributions from Alan Phenix, scientist at the Getty Conservation Institute, Kathleen Shields, executive director at the Frederick Hammersley Foundation, and Nancy Zastudil, administrative director at the Frederick Hammersley Foundation. Distributed internationally by DAP and retailing for $35, the catalog has 120 pages and 75 illustrations. Available at the Museum of Art shop.

Credit line Frederick Hammersley: To Paint without Thinking is organized by the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens with lead support from the Susan and Stephen Chandler Fund for Exhibitions of American Art. Support for the exhibition and programs at the New Mexico Museum of Art provided by the Frederick Hammersley Foundation and the Museum of New Mexico Foundation. 

Images left to right:

Frederick Hammersley, Couplet, #15 1965 (1968), oil on canvas, 35 7/8 x 49 3/4 in. Collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art. Gift of Frederick Hammersley, 2008 (2008.24.2) © Frederick Hammersley Foundation

Frederick Hammersley, Paired, 1961, oil on linen, 30 1/8 × 23 7/8 in. Collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art. Museum purchase, 1988 (1988.200.1) Photo by Blair Clark © Frederick HammersleyFoundation

Media Contact: Jennifer Villela 505-577-1347

About the New Mexico Museum of Art The Museum is located at 107 West Palace Avenue, Santa Fe, New Mexico, just off the downtown Plaza. 24 Hr. Recorded Message: 505-476-5072; Front desk: 505-476-5041. November through April the museum is open Tuesdays - Sundays: 10 am-5 pm and open for free 5 to 8 pm on the first Friday of the month. May through October the museum is open 7 days a week 10 am-5 pm and is open for free every Friday night from 5 to 8 pm. The Museum is closed on Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. Weather conditions may require the Museum to close; you can check with the Front Desk at 505-476-5041. Visit us on the web for the latest updates at

The New Mexico Museum of Art is a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs. Museum exhibitions and programs are supported by donors to the Museum of New Mexico Foundation and its Director’s Leadership Fund, Exhibitions Development Fund, and Fund for Museum Education.

About The Huntington The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens is a collections-based research and educational institution serving scholars and the general public. More information about The Huntington can be found online at




Related Photos

Frederick Hammersley, Paired
Frederick Hammersley, Couplet

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