Bill Hammond’s dark, moody, and sometimes obsessively detailed landscapes have likened him to 16th Century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch. Born in Christchurch in 1947, it wasn’t until after graduating from the School of Fine Arts in Canterbury in 1969, and a consequential 12 year hiatus, that Hammond launched his career in 1981 as a full-time painter. His work features two main themes: references to popular music, usually manifesting with lyrical quotations, and, as seen here in Eagle and Bone (2007), the unique and often sinister depiction of a hybrid human and bird creature, referred to as ‘humaniforms’. (Jennifer Hay with Laurence Aberhart, Chris Knox and Ron Brownson in Bill Hammond Jingle Jangle Morning, Christchurch Art Gallery, 2007).
Hammond’s humaniform creatures are usually drawn from either two of New Zealand’s extinct bird species, the moa and the Haast eagle. In Eagle and Bone, the painter resurrects the extinct bird so that it inhabits a new mythical world of shape-shifting, where its body is morphed with human physical form. Up until 500-700 years ago, the Haast eagle was the most dominant predator in our ecosystem and is now believed to have been the world’s largest bird of prey. Furthering this bird’s sense of savagery is Hammond’s depiction of the eagle in what appears to be a patterned leaf cloak. The creature holds a notably large bone (that uncannily resembles a rifle) in such a victorious manner that personifies the bird as a bestial and threatening war monger. This sinister new world that Hammond creates implies the conflicting relationship humans have with nature and the environment, essentially suggesting a fundamental imbalance in the world.