This past spring, the Modern and Contemporary Art Research team began work on a remarkable set of archive materials from painter Frederick Hammersley (1919–2009), which offers unique insights into an artist's working methods, materials, and creative intentions.

 

Frederick Hammersley was a leading postwar abstract painter in Southern California. Alongside Karl Benjamin, Lorser Feitelson, and John McLaughlin, he came to prominence as part of the group shown in the 1959 exhibition Four Abstract Classicists, who were painting in a style that came to be known as West Coast hard-edge. Hammersley studied art in Los Angeles in the 1940s, where he continued to teach at several art schools until he moved to Albuquerque in 1968.

In 2010, in preparation for the Getty's Crosscurrents exhibition, GCI scientists Tom Learner and Alan Phenix, with Getty Research Institute curators Andrew Perchuk, Rani Singh, and Glenn Phillips, visited the studio of Hammersley, now the base for his foundation. During this visit, foundation director Kathleen Shields introduced the Getty team to the various archive materials held there.

Among this collection are notebooks compiled by the artist over the course of nearly five decades. The four-volume set that Hammersley called his "Painting Books" records the physical details of his completed "geometric" paintings, from 1959 until just a few months before his death. Such a comprehensive record of an artist's working practice has few parallels. The notebooks offer wonderful insights into the relationships among his materials, technique, and creative intent and are an important reference for conservators who may encounter his work.

In March, Phenix, accompanied by consultant Tom McClintock, returned to the Frederick Hammersley Foundation to examine and photograph the notebooks. The Foundation generously allowed access to archive material and to works by the artist that remain in its collection. The project has been further assisted by LA Louver gallery, which has represented Hammersley since the 1970s.