Beauty in the Decrepit: Alaric Hammond launches ‘Caustic Windows’ at Saatchi Gallery

In line with the John Cage’s dictum that ‘Beauty is underfoot whenever we take the trouble to look’ and not in the relentless cycle of consumption, Hammond has always been attracted to the “gutter and the crummy parts of town”- finding beauty in derelict buildings and run-down amusement arcades and fairgrounds. The forthcoming exhibition entitled Caustic Windows will include a series of assemblages etched with corroded geometric patterns and motifs, which Hammond describes as a ‘discordant cacophony of everyday images, dipped in acid.’

Hammond has been described by Steve Lazarides’of Outsiders Gallery, who were first to show his work, as “to street art what Throbbing Gristle were to Punk.”

The industrial artworks are mainly composed from sheets of zinc, images are etched into the metal plates and through over exposure to the acid bath, pushed into varied states of corrosion. Not a drop of paint has been used in the tightly controlled studies. Beautiful textures emerge flanked by randomly selected texts and collected images of the environment and the artists’ past. All the colouring in the pieces is produced from the process of eroding the metals. Hammond explains that while he was producing the pieces for the show, he started thinking about current urban renewal and in particular the city he knows best, London. He says,

I’ve always felt at home in areas which had a roughness to them, time worn surfaces and signage, junk shops, the graffiti made by peoples fleeting gesture to say that ‘I was here’. It’s easy to feel you have a place within it. This feeling has captivated and comforted me all my life.

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The artist describes the assemblages as ‘objects’, employing the cut-up technique popularised by William Burroughs in the 1950s and 1960s. He says: “The individual fragments don’t make much sense alone, its when I begin juxtaposing one piece with another that interesting associations begin to emerge. I don’t want to be consciously responsible for every gesture and every mark: We are bombarded with images from television, film, magazines, newspapers and personal electronic devices that relate to our individual experience. The pieces in the show are not literal, but an attempt to channel the texture of the city and reflect the visual noise that we experience through mass and social media.”

Hammond grew up in a small coastal mining village on the outskirts of Newcastle. He went to University and dropped out, moving to London in the late-nineties where he soon found like minds within an innovative collective that was commandeered by Paul Insect. He found wells of creative inspiration in the areas that have now been transformed by the march of urban renewal, among them, Shoreditch and the then dingy fringes of Hackney and Dalston, which he describes as ‘yesterdays border towns’.

He describes the social cleansing of these formerly gritty, urban areas that have since been cleaned-up and homogenised as “a napalm bomb exploding through London’s creative nerve centre. You have to wonder if London has been sold to the highest bidder.”

The Saatchi gallery states that,

“There is a strong sense of displacement in the works. The artist has spent a lot of time living and moving between one place and another; living in the margins of communities. This has led to an almost anthropological observation of how we live our lives in our cities.”

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When the narratives emerge, Hammond couldn’t help thinking about the people who originally populated the vibrant pockets of the city that developers have swooped in on. He says,

“The artists and key members of those communities who can’t afford to live in the fancy new apartment blocks when the banks, landlords and the estate agents get greedy. I see these are the real developers, people who lived in Soho in the 80s and 90s in Manhattan, Shoreditch in the millennium years, Berlin in the last decade. All of them regenerated by the creative ‘self starters’, years before the big investment which wouldn’t have started without them. Many of the compositions in the exhibition bear knobbly geometric markings and tapered curves, not dissimilar to Norman Foster’s Gherkin building. One of the assemblages, entitled God I Want You So Much It Makes Me Dizzy, includes an image of a mobile phone bearing the title message from a former girlfriend. The piece is interspersed with discarded product packaging, spam and email offers a s well objects we think we ‘need’ or desire in order to be better people, like new shoes, cigarettes, prescription drugs or lipstick.”

The motifs found in the works are largely mundane, everyday snippets of experience. Hammond says the Christian Louboutin shoes were initially an unconscious connection. He says “I found that message from an ex-girlfriend and thought I could use it, then it hit me that some people want those shoes as much as I wanted her at the time.”

Struck by the glistening, gentrifying new London that sucks in global wealth and an older, wearier one that seems at risk of being devoured, Hammond explains,

“99% of what surrounds us in the city is utterly mundane, yet we still find magic, beauty and wonder there just as we do when surrounded by nature. I called the show Caustic Windows because there used to be an exciting friction between the gleaming windows of the financial centre and the cruddy but vibrant outskirts. We look through windows, often to gaze at something aspirational and shop windows, particularly in the rundown parts of town have influenced the works enormously, but windows also reflect ourselves. That in a nutshell is what the works are about. fragments of the environment and our experience within it.”

2 September — 1 November 2015

The Saatchi Gallery. Duke Of York’s HQ, King’s Road, London SW3 4RY