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Jonathan Hammer – Tarnish and Shine: Silverpoint Drawings

The Hebrew Home at Riverdale, Gilbert Pavilion Gallery
5901 Palisade Ave, Riverdale, 718-581-1596
April 29 - July 29, 2012
Reception: Sunday, April 29, 3:30 - 5 PM
Web Site

Tarnish and Shine: Silverpoint Drawings is the first survey of Jonathan Hammer’s work in this medium. Hammer’s introduction to metalpoint occurred in 1989 when he began experimenting with precious metals to tool text onto leather. Trained as a bookbinder and leather craftsman, Hammer extended the metalpoint medium to drawing, and in the early 2000s, began a series of silverpoint studies of twigs and botanical subjects. The twig drawings present meticulously rendered branches suspended against blank white space, resembling specimen studies in format, but functioning as portraits in each twig’s unique series of complex knots, knobs and twists. The recurring pathways and lines that twist within empty space evoke the interrelated themes of time passing, direction and movement.

The technique of metalpoint is rooted in medieval manuscript illumination, later reaching the height of its popularity during the Northern and High Renaissance, from the mid-15th to late 16th century. The technique of using precious metals to draw is a highly precise and delicate process. Each drawing is executed on specially treated paper, and once a line has been laid down, it cannot be erased.

Silverpoint drawing is a recurring medium in Hammer’s work, and has taken varied roles. In 1997, he began to explore the symbolism of tarnishing, a quality unique to silverpoint, when he included a series of “tarnished heart” drawings in an installation created in response to a provocative postcard he received from minimalist sculptor Carl Andre. Hammer described these drawings as: “Subtle, sublime but also self-annihilating indictment.” Tarnishing is a chemical reaction that visibly reveals the passage of time as silver oxidizes and darkens, a process that Hammer explores conceptually in his work. The nature of silverpoint is to become warmer in color and softer in edge; ultimately mirroring time elapsing and the subsequent changes it brings about. The idea of darkening, or tarnishing, connotes decay, dilapidation, corrosion – the process of change and transformation – whether of the metal, the physical body, or the heart.

Jonathan Hammer is an American artist living in Spain. For 25 years his work has crossed the boundaries of various media and techniques using materials such as exotic skins and porcelain and including books, works on paper (pastels, silverpoints), installation, sculpture, standing screens, photographs and prints. Hammer has had 40 one-person exhibitions (including eight in New York, five with Matthew Marks Gallery) in eight countries, and museum surveys at the Geneva Center for Contemporary Art and the Berkeley Museum. His work is included in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art and The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles among others. Hammer is an authority on DADA and has published his critical writing on the subject in Ball and Hammer (Yale University Press, 2002). For further information, visit

An exhibition of Hammer’s work from his Kovno-Kobe series will be on view concurrently at the Hebrew Home in the Derfner Judaica Museum from April 29 – July 29, 2012. For further information, visit the Museum’s page at
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