Street view of Hamilton's studio in Greenpoint.
Recently I was invited to the Brooklyn studio of Nicholas Hamilton.
Hamilton was born in Omagh, Northern Ireland in 1979 and his upbringing and cultural background continue to inform much of his present work. Far from being dry and pedantic Hamilton explores the politics, social strife and rich history of his country from an intimate perspective, while never forgetting that he operates in a visual medium. In Hamilton's work the narrative power of abstraction is summoned when cold, hard facts strike against the imaginative vision of an artist who is coming to terms with a very personal history.
Below are images of Hamilton's work and studio accompanied by the artist's own words.
Chuckies, Croppies, Fenians, Left Footers, Mickeys, Papists, Popeheads, Shinners, Stickies, Taigs, Tims,
India ink on paper, 32 x 48 inches.
"These drawings were created by spelling out the sectarian terms of abuse in the titles using stencils. Once the contours of one letter were traced in pencil I then moved the next letter in the word ever so slightly in a circular pattern to the point that the phrases became abstracted. I then used India ink and a fine brush to draw over the pencil lines. Some of the slurs are historical and not all of them are still in use."
India ink drawings with The First Breath (9th March, 1954) in the foreground.
The First Breath (9th March, 1954), detail. Silver and gold thread, black fabric, 3 x 5 feet.
"The title of this piece refers to the birth date of the hunger striker Bobby Sands, one of the most iconic figures from the period of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland known as The Troubles. He died thirty years ago as a result of starvation on 5th May 1981.
During the hunger strikes of the early 1980’s black flags were placed outside homes that were in solidarity with the hunger striker’s cause. In addition to using this symbol I commissioned an astrological natal chart for Bobby Sands, which I then stitched onto the black fabric that makes up one side of the flag. It depicts the alignment of the planets within the twelve houses. The other side shows the stars and position of the planets on the day he was born.
Crucially, I should mention that as I was growing up his image became a source of nightmares for me. I come from a Protestant background and far from being a heroic martyr I saw him as the bogeyman. For me, he was the archetypal ‘other’ and in the process of embroidering the flag I wanted to explore my own projections and demonization of this figure."
Hamilton in his studio. To his left:
Billys, Blackmen, Huns, Ironrods, Steelrods, Jaffas, Orangies, Prods, Proddies, Proddy Dogs
Above: Four studio views.
Hamilton in his studio with The First Breath (9th March, 1954)
Text in italics are the words of the artist.