If you know who you are then it’s easy to make art. Most people are really concerned about their image. Artists have allowed themselves to be boxed in by saying “yes” all the time because they want to be seen, and they should be saying “no.” I do my street art mainly to keep rooted in that “who I am.” Because the only thing that’s really going on is in the street; That’s where something is really happening. It isn’t happening in these galleries.
—— David Hammons
David Hammons is a contemporary American artist whose sculptural, print-based, video, and painted work offers a crucial interpretation of African-American art history. Born in Springfield, IL, in 1943, he studied at the Chouinard Art Institution and the Otis Art Institute, befriending key members in Conceptual Art such as Bruce Nauman, John Baldessari, and Chris Burden. In 1974 Hammons settled in New York City, where he slowly became better known nationally.
Frequently comprised of found materials and various unconventional elements, Hammons’s work often addresses issues relating to race, class, identity and black culture. Beginning in the late 1960s, he began to use his own body, greasing it, imprinting it on paper, and sprinkling the result with pigment and graphite to make Body Prints. These X-ray-like figures were punctuated with exacting details of skin, hair, clothes, and body parts created by the process of one-to-one transfer. His most controversial work was a billboard he created in 1988, in which he painted a blond-haired, blue-eyed, white Jesse Jackson. Written on the billboard was “How You Like Me Now?” The work was attacked by a group of young black men with sledgehammers and was destroyed.
Through his varied work and media, and frequent changes in direction, Hammons has managed to avoid one signature visual style. By employing unusual ideas and signs, Hammons joined his peer postmodernist artists who were investigating the boundary and contemporary definition of art. Much of his work makes allusions to, and shares concerns with minimalism and post-minimal art, but with added Duchampian references to the place of Black people in American society Along with his focus on cultural overtones, Hammons’s work also discusses the notions of public and private spaces, as well as what constitutes a valuable commodity. And also noteworthy is the artist’s use of discarded or abject materials, including but not limited to elephant dung, chicken parts, strands of African-American hair, and bottles of cheap wine. Many critics see these objects as evocative of the desperation of the poor, Black urban class, but Hammons reportedly saw a sort of sacrosanct or ritualistic power in these materials, which is why he utilized them so extensively.
Hammons received the MacArthur Fellowship in July of 1991. A diverse range of his work can be found in world-class public collections, including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, IL; The Museum of Modern Art in New York, NY; and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, MN. Hammons currently lives and works in New York City.