John Hammond: Capturing the light of the Cotswolds

  • John Hammond
  • John Hammond - Afternoon Tea, Montpellier Gardens, Cheltenham
  • John Hammond- After the Rain, The Promenade, Cheltenham
  • John Hammond - Dappled Light, Autumn Walk
  • John Hammond - Lazy Summer, Montpellier
  • John Hammond - The Shade of the Old Trees

Artist John Hammond’s works are often described as impressionistic, and yet they have a depth and vibrancy to them that suggests one could stroll right into the scenes they portray. 

Working mainly in acrylics, John has often returned to the Cotswolds, portraying its iconic lavender fields, rural lanes - and, in his most recent series - the spa-town stateliness of Cheltenham. 

Regular readers will recognise John’s work from the cover of our Autumn/Winter 2016 edition. John is represented in the area by galleries in Broadway and Stratford upon Avon. We spoke to John ahead of the Fresh Art Fair, where John will be debuting his most recent work in association with the John Noott Galleries.

Let’s begin at the beginning. Where did you train?

Initially, at Wimbledon. I did a one year course there and then headed up to the West Country, where I attended the Bath Academy of Art - a three year degree course in fine art.

Is your style something you developed in your formal education?

No, that came later - with experience. My paintings fall into the ‘genre’ of impressionism, but they’ve got a very strong underpinning of draughtsmanship and observation. That’s the one thing I was taught very well at art college. But the painting itself was self-taught in the years afterwards.

While impressionistic, your paintings have a certain ‘reality’ to them. They seem almost like inhabitable spaces.

All [my] paintings are environments, really. The subjects I choose to paint always say something to me when I see them. I think of myself as a painter of light, so usually it has something to do with light and shadow. That’s the starting point, the point of inspiration.

Then it’s the challenge of recapturing, on canvas, the environment, the atmosphere, the feeling of being in the place: to recreate it [in such a way] as when a person stands [before] the painting, they’ll feel the same way I felt when I was standing in front of the subject. That’s what I’m always striving to achieve - the sense of three-dimensional spaces that you could almost walk into. To feel the heat of the sun, hear the birds singing, or a trickling brook. 

When somebody looks at a painting you want them to have a physical reaction to it as much as a visual experience. So it’s about capturing the elements that allows that to happen.

I always consider what the paintings look like under artificial light, because the majority of the time the customer will be looking at the painting under artificial light. It is important that the painting works in a typical lighting situation that you’d find in a home - rather than in a flash studio with a big north-facing window. 

How do your buyers respond to your work? What do they take from your paintings?

I enjoy the feedback I receive when customers tell me that they watch the painting change during the day, because the colours do change depending on the light. It takes on a whole different character. I like the idea that the painting can give more than just a first look. 

It’s always nice to hear about the paintings I’ve sold in the past, when people approach me at shows and tell me where they’ve hung my work, if they’ve noticed something new, if it’s still as exciting as it was on the very first day they bought it. That’s a real shot in the arm for me - it’s encouraging to know that the paintings are still giving after all those years.

What connections do you have to the North Cotswolds?

I live in Wiltshire, in Chippenham - about twenty miles south of Cirencester. I show in quite a few regional galleries, but the John Noott Galleries in Broadway is one of my mainstays, but I also exhibit in Stratford upon Avon. So I’m constantly doing that drive from Chippenham through the Cotswolds to Stratford, up along the Fosse Way. And that’s how I’ve fallen in love with the area.

When I have the time, I’ll turn off the Fosse Way, ignoring the signs, and just drive, seeing what I’ll find. The architecture is beautiful, particularly the colour of the stone, but the countryside is spectacular as well. I do lots of what I suppose you’d call pastoral paintings, with sheep grazing in the field. They have a nostalgic feel to them. They remind me of my childhood…running through fields.

I think the [Cotswold] paintings have a meditative quality to them. They’re calming. People seem to like to lose themselves in them, particularly the ones with sheep in.

When I’m looking for subjects I often look for water. As a painter of light I think the play of light on water can be a very exciting challenge. And so I like the River Windrush, the Slaughters, and Bibury.

What’s on the horizon for you?

The Fresh Art Fair in Cheltenham. John Noott is doing a stand there and it’s really one of the reasons why I’ve embarked on this big series of Cheltenham paintings. They’re a really strong set - and I’m looking forward to people seeing them.

I used to show at a gallery in Cheltenham - quite a few years ago - and there was always a strong market for art buying there. It’s been a pleasure to revisit some of the places I used to study all those years ago.

See the debut of John's most recent work (in association with John Noott Galleries) at Fresh: Art Fair, Cheltenham Racecourse, 12th - 14th May 2017.