Through Wasp Nest Sculptures and Encaustic Drawings, Valerie Hammond Preserves the Ephemeral


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“Alexandra” (2022). All images © Valerie Hammond, shared with permission

Nature is replete with layering, as seen in the soft tissues of a flower’s petal, the cellular makeup of human skin, or the paper-thin walls of insect nests. Although delicate themselves, these layers offer protection from the more fragile insides and are subsequently prone to change, often through natural decay and exposure to the elements. Valerie Hammond (previously) is drawn to these fleeting moments of life and their inevitable transformation, which she explores through an artistic practice centered around preservation and its limits.

Now based in the Hudson Valley after decades in the East Village, Hammond has spent nearly twenty years considering how quickly an existence can emerge and perish, a theme that emerged during the AIDS crisis in the U.S. Her practice is largely focused on the corporeal and the inherent ephemerality of the human body, which she merges with botanicals in her ongoing series of encaustic drawings.

Using her own limbs and those of her children, friends, and family, Hammond traces outstretched hands and layers the translucent renderings with fresh flowers, pencil markings, wax, and other materials. She portrays the similarities between the vascular and skeletal systems and the structure of ferns and other botanicals, and many works are scaled to the actual size of the human body, preserving the dimensions of a child’s wrist or woman’s fingers as they were in a particular moment. As the series evolves and grows, the pieces offer insight into “how we experience nature and the many ways we might allow it to change us, and the various skins and outer shells that we shed in order to transition to new, and possibly more whole, selves.”

 

Detail of “Daphne” (2023), wasp nest, paper, and glass, 12½ x 13 x 11 x 2 x 68 inches

For a recent exhibition at Planthouse, Hammond debuted a new sculpture titled “Laurel” that features a pair of feet with spindly branches emerging mid-calf. Mirroring the encaustic drawings, the work joins a larger collection of anatomical forms and busts made from wasp nests layered with Japanese paper on an armature that again references the impermanent. The natural material “spoke to what I was really looking for in the sculptures,” Hammond shares. “In the last few years, I’ve been thinking about the chimera…about inserting myself in nature, and that’s what I’ve been thinking about in these sculptures, as a way of being a part of nature in this physical, metaphysical, and metaphorical sense.”

Hammond’s work is included in a group show on view through May 23 at Gallery de Sol in Taipei City, and she has a show opening that same month at September Gallery in Kinderhook, New York. To explore a larger archive of her two- and three-dimensional pieces, visit her site and Instagram.

 

Detail of “Alexandra” (2022)

Detail of “Alexandra” (2022)

“Traces” (Kiki)” (2008), pigment, color pencil, graphite, wax, glass beads, and thread on paper, 21 x 17 inches

“Wildwood Threads”

Detail of “Wildwood Threads”

“Wildwood Threads”

“Laurel” (2023), wasp nest, paper, and glass, 30 x 25 x 65 inches

“Daphne” (2023), wasp nest, paper, and glass, 12½ x 13 x 11 x 2 x 68 inches

Detail of “Laurel” (2023), wasp nest, paper, and glass, 30 x 25 x 65 inches

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