Posted by: Necci – May 09, 2012
As I sit outside of the Lift Café on a beautiful spring day waiting for artist Hamilton Glass, I can’t help but think how much Broad Street and the arts district in Richmond has changed. Most recently, you would have to be blind not to notice the unleashing of amazing worldwide and local talent and creativity that has been canvassing the Richmond area in a large scale. With the recent G40 Summit (put on by Art Whino) and the RVA Street Art Festival (led by local legend Ed Trask), this spring in Richmond is dedicated to “The Art of the Mural.”
One of the local talents who recently canvassed our city is Hamilton Glass. As I sip my coffee and look about Broad Street waiting for him to arrive, I wonder, who is Hamilton Glass? Who’s HAM©? His work is super impressive. His black and white portraits popping out of walls with a backdrop bounty of color, lines, circles, contrast, depth, emotion, soft and hard edges.
Hamilton Glass was born in Philadelphia Pennsylvania, a town he loves and certainly keeps close to his heart. Growing up, he enjoyed sketching designs whenever he could. His mother harnessed this talent and made sure that he would be involved with art each and every day in some sort of way. Ham appreciated his mother’s passion to keep him involved with art, though as much as he loved art, he was never a fan of being instructed on how to apply it. Ham finished high school and went on to earn a degree in Architecture. After earning his degree, he stationed himself in the megalopolis of northern New Jersey and New York City, fulfilling his career path. There he met his wife, also an architect. The two related to Richmond, but not long after their arrival, the infamous recession hit our nation. Ham, like so many others, lost his job. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because two months after being laid off he painted “Recession 2009,” a controversial mural located in the Fan that depicted a man with a gun at his temple. Richmond residents and visitors have had the pleasure of seeing his creativity throughout Richmond ever since. This includes the recent RVA Street Art Festival, where Ham worked in collaboration with artists like Jeff Soto, Dalek, El Camino, and Ed Trask to beautify the flood wall at the Richmond Power Plant.
Congrats are in order for your awesome recent mural! And yes, I smell the James now and again too. How did you find out that you would be one of the artists for the Street Art Festival? Did you know it was coming or was it a complete surprise?
The festival wasn’t a surprise, since Ed Trask had pulled me into the Altria project prior, but I was very surprised and honored to be invited to participate. I do feel lucky because there are so many great artists here already. I was elated to be a part of the Festival, though I did feel some pressure to perform, considering Jeff Soto was right beside me. Ultimately, I relaxed and got over it as I got to know Jeff and the others. The pressure dissipated and it was my time to make art.
How long did you have to plan for the mural? How was the idea of your Mural conceived? Was it instant? Something you had in your back pocket until the moment was right?
I had about a week. The idea wasn’t really in my back pocket, it just suddenly came to me through experimenting in my studio, where I certainly push the design ideas. I am at a point where I am not exactly where I want to be with my style or consistency. I am still tweaking ideas and concepts. Once that has been accomplished I am ready to roll. I feel the past 3 to 4 months have gotten me nearly to that point.
How did you foresee the impact of the mural you painted on RVA residents and visitors to the flood wall?
I am totally into the 1920’s era. I love that whole movement; the clothes, the art, the style. So I was feeling that 1920’s style on the James River, with the history surrounding me and a beautiful seductive woman smitten by the “cologne” of the James. I felt the “Heart RVA” was appropriate for the mural and my love for the city. I always try to reveal just enough to spark conversation about art.
Now that the walls are done and beautified, from an architectural perspective, could you envision more improvements for this location?
Definitely, even though architecture is separate from the art, the flood wall and canal walk is a place for contemplation and congregation. It now gives reason to come there and enjoy the art and location. I would like to see the art change out every other year or so and make this more of an enjoyable location for the residents. I hope the murals are only the beginning.
Are you amazed at all with the exposure Richmond is getting through its art? You have a passionate heart for RVA, so with this recent surge of global, national and local artists hitting the mortar, how does this make you feel?
Definitely. But it really should have happened sooner. It’s been really tough to secure wall space here in Richmond since I have started. For me it has been painful. Seeing the G40 Art Summit and the RVA Street Art Festival kick off all at once has been insane. I have enjoyed meeting artists from all over the world, some of which I have followed for some time. I just hope that the city is enjoying it too.
Now a little on your older art work. What happened to that superb Theatre Row Mural? I saw the old lady in flowers there but everything else was gone.
Man, that mural was expensive, and was taken down within 2 months or so. I am not sure really how it all went down but I have my thoughts. I know of a wall where I would like to relocate that mural, and [I] believe the building owner is excited about the idea. I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with Altria on relocating that mural since it was on panels. The outlook is good to make that happen, so look for it to resurface come this summer.
Recession 2009, what a great piece! I guess this brings up a question on discretion--what to paint and where. How quick did the censorship response come to mind? Is it safe to say that ultimately you agreed Recession 2009 was a bit harsh and had to be removed?
Ironically Recession 2009 was the mural that really got things going for me. The mural is painted on the wall of ALB Tech. Adam Bell of ALB Tech is a dream client and I couldn’t be more grateful for his offering. He gave me the wall and said, "Paint whatever you want to paint." You know, art should spark conversation, and that’s what that piece did. The mural, that depiction, was upsetting, but it was upsetting times during the heat of the recession. A lot of people thought I was directed to take the mural down. I wasn’t ordered to take it down, I changed it for a reason; to further the conversation even more. I came up with the idea within a couple days. I may not have even changed it at all, if it weren’t for the manner in which the people who had an issue with it displayed their disapproval. If they had only come to me respectably, things may have been different. They came threatening, threatening the building owner, had meetings amongst each other without extending the invitation to me for discussion. I’ve had the opportunity to discuss this at the VMFA this week as well. I am hopeful that the new message of the mural resonates.
Could you elaborate on your Heroes and Villains collaboration with Daniel Johnson? Would you like to continue doing more collaboration?
The back drop was a stencil by Daniel Johnson. It wasn’t really a piece of work for gallery show, but rather a piece for the artistic spirit of the night. We finished that one in a couple hours because it was a live painting, and then auctioned it off. Collaborations are fun and express that artist unity, but really I enjoy painting by myself mostly.
Where and on what do you enjoy painting most?
I love doing live paintings but would much rather do large murals outside. First comes murals, then canvas, and anything else after that. I really like the contrast of the paint on wood, and the theory of not messing up. I just like the contrast on wood with paint, it’s awesome. If I had my way, I would only do murals though.
Your designs are very intricate. Do you utilize any tools to maintain the geometry of your designs?
I love painting the portraits in black and white, for that contrast and pop from the background. That is my style today. You will also see that I like to use a lot of pink. Actually, there are very few pieces that don’t have pink. Pink is my favorite color. Nowhere do I try to be realistic, and really it is all about the sketches then the paint. I really like lines and even in my portraits you find lines. I am obsessed with lines. I love making lines with spray paint because there are so many hand styles that you can use to do that. That is why I enjoy spray painting. Lately I have been focusing more on lines to find and isolate my style, and I am finally happy with how my work has evolved. After completing a mural, I want to go back to an old mural and redo it because of the developments I’ve discovered. I don’t use any tools for my lines, yet my goal is to achieve the perfect line freehand. With my lines I want to differentiate myself from others, and I am closing in on my own unique look.
Considering the intricacies of your backdrops how do you know when you’re really done?
I just get the feeling that it is done. Even painting last week I knew that so much line work had to go in, and I honestly don’t know how it is going to look, so the line work is totally random but it feels soooo good. Another thing is that I will encounter the need to change the mural because the space may not be what I thought it was when I was sketching it out. I have to improvise, which is a great exercise in itself. In fact, sometimes I get to a point in my sketch where I have to stop and get on with the mural. Like for the RVA Street Art Festival, I was so involved with sketching that when Ed Trask asked me what colors I was going to use, I hadn’t even developed the color scheme yet. Bottom line, I love sketching.
You played a role in the Art 180 Monument Avenue display by providing your very own self portrait to help inspire 30-plus children to do the same, but when news broke that the permit was essentially counterfeit and the art had to be removed, how did you spring into action to help?
This project started a year ago and there were 6 other program leaders involved. We had to complete our self portraits in 7 hours, as did the kids. I am so glad that this exhibit is helping kids. I get a lot out of working with Art 180. More upsetting than the permit issue was that someone called this exhibit “a disgrace.” That hit me personally. How often does a child get to show his work publicly? No one really reported on this matter, only the permit issue.
With murals by Hamilton Glass going up around town, you are now embarking on being an influential person by result of your displays. Is this something you are excited about and prepared for?
Definitely. I want to generate conversation about art. Generally speaking, I would like to be an advocate for public art. I have been involved with kids and Art 180 and haven’t missed but maybe one day within three years. It is great seeing the kids light up when they see art. Why not have that additional push for art especially for our youth?
Now that the RVA Street Art Festival has passed, how do you want to paint RVA next?
Oh man, that is a loaded question. Whatever comes to me at the time. I would rather have my next idea guide me, especially since I am not 100% happy with my style just yet. I am more excited about growing right now. Speaking at the VMFA last week, I [was] standing on stage with all the other artists with 10 years or more experience talking about their past. I can’t do that just yet. It is more about what is next right now. I would love to see my execution progress. I have been elevated to another stage in my career.
If you were to paint a mural anywhere in the world… where would you go?
Oh man, it would be Philadelphia. Philadelphia, some would argue, is the mural capitol of the nation. Philadelphia already has such an established mural arts program; it’s not easy to just break in there. The murals that are done there are not done by one person, like here. They pick an artist, then they pick the painters. It’s much more institutionalized than it is here. And I don’t mean that in a bad way, but it’s developed to that point. It might be like that here in the next 10 – 20 years, but it’s not right now. This is great for up and coming artists, like myself, or anyone else who’s just trying to express themselves and do a mural. Philly is saturated with murals, which makes it a challenge to do one there. I would love to be able to do something grassroots in Philadelphia; it would be my gift to home.
By Marc Schmidt