Hollis Hammonds strives to create beauty from chaos, to find the grace of a disaster. Her aesthetic is as much messy collage as it is rich and elegant organization. She sees perfection in imperfections and finds joy in flaws.
In short, you could call her artwork a collection of beautiful disasters. Her latest beautiful disaster, Worthless Matter, is now on display at Redux Contemporary Art Center.
"I'm interested in beauty and organization mixed with chaos. I like the imperfection of things. I think you can see that in my drawings. They're dystopian, post-apocalyptic. They're a dark subject matter, but they're also beautifully rendered," says Hammonds.
Beautifully rendered indeed. A browse of her website gives a glimpse into Hammonds' world. There are numerous drawings of collections of things: furniture, car parts, pots and pans, and other detritus of a life spent among things. This makes sense, especially when you listen to Hammonds speak of a childhood spent on a few acres in rural Kentucky.
"My parents were hoarders, and even though now we have a TV show about it, back then I think it was kind of normal. It was the Cold War, post-Depression era. People saved and recycled everything. My mother had collections, which were slightly organized chaos. There were dolls everywhere and ceramic figurines everywhere. My father had sheds filled with things. He collected everything. Plastic bottles, bags, he would reuse for some other thing. There was a room in our basement that was filled with plastic containers. I used to play in the backyard, which was basically like a junkyard. Every car my family owned ended up there. It was a car graveyard." She pauses and laughs. "It was kind of crazy."
These early years became the inspiration for much of Hammonds' work. "I'm interested in memories. I'm interested in memorializing all these things through saved objects. It used to be that I was using the actual objects — dolls, china, bottles — that my grandmother, father, or mother owned, but now it's turned into objects that remind me of those things. It's not as literal anymore. It's all about saving little bits and pieces to preserve the memory of things."
Hammonds lives and works in Austin, Texas, as the chair of the art department at St. Edwards University. Her installation at Redux includes work she completed in Texas, as well as ones she finished right here in the Holy City. One piece in particular, the 3-D focal point of the exhibit, was made with wood, veneer, and various items with meaning to Hammonds in addition to objects she found on the streets of Charleston.
"I'm bringing as many things as I can with me, special objects I want to include. I'll ship the wood veneer that'll be included throughout the piece. With the sculptural installations the wood veneer kind of acts as a drawn line, adding a lyrical movement to the piece." She pauses before continuing, as though she's planning in her head. "The rest I'll pick up on the way once I get there. It could be slightly stressful, but I like working this way. You go to a place, and you find and use the material of that place. It's a way of responding to the environment, of making the art specific to a location. All of that happens in a way that's intuitive and slightly abstract."
Of course, finding enough of the items that inspire Hammonds is a bit worrisome. Will there be discarded furniture on the streets? Old toys and games and books? The objects of her memory's affection? "My main concern is having enough material to work with once I get there. But the people at Redux tell me that college is out and the dorms will be emptying. Hopefully there will be a lot of stuff available."