Woodshop Talk: Tamar Hammer
BUFFALO ALMANACK: Your illustrations depict the language of an American coffee house being reinterpreted through the lens of your native Hebrew. Yet it could just as easily represent the opposite: an Israeli café seen through the eyes of an American expatriate. What does it mean to see the world in two languages?
TAMAR HAMMER: Oh… it is very noisy. I’m busy translating all the time. My brain is like an airport of words lending and departing from one language to the other with me stuck in the gate trying to remember my next destination and where my luggage is while pretending to the world that I am in the control tower.
BA: Do you often paint or illustrate public scenes as they unfold? What value do you see in keeping an artist’s journal, or else taking your art to town with you?
TH: Yes, there are a few places that I visit often, for painting reasons and I’m always looking for new ones. For me, creating an art journal is like having a meaningful conversation. After a session of three to four hours of painting in a coffee shop, for example, I feel that I learned a lot from the place and the people around me but also had a fair chance to express my perspective.
In my journal I draw coffee shops and other neighborhood scenes but also natural sites like parks and gardens, and this conversation happens while painting people reading a book in a coffee shop, as well as well as while painting a goose hopping in the park.
BA: Everywhere in these artworks we see language and material blend together, until we are no longer certain what is objective and what is perspective. Why do you employ such a technique?
TH: Text is an inanimate object therefore it jumps out of other inanimate objects, as well as from the people around. During the process of painting, the words just leap out, no planning ahead. Sometimes words stand before me out of ‘nowhere’ while at other times they emerge out of physical texts, such as a sign or a logo. The words come out and start a dialogue that soon becomes a long distance flight from America to Israel and back. On the way between Tel-Aviv and Portland I make a few connections and spend many hours above the ocean.
BA: How has life in America treated you so far? What do you miss about Israel?
TH: Sometime in the 1980s when I first visited Oregon’s wild forests, the ones touching the Pacific, I fell in love with the high ferns that cover the soil between the evergreen trees. It was so different from what is known as ‘forest’ in Israel. Such a rich, lively and wild green – it has amazed me. Maybe it sounds like an exaggeration – to fall for a fern – but it was real and since then, it was my dream to come back. This is why I feel at home living by these forests, and I visit them and the coast every season.
In Israel, other than my family and friends, what I miss is the landscape: Palm trees on the Dead Sea, the Bet-She’an ruins on a warm summer night, ancient olive trees in Beit-Hakerem Valley.
Speaking of olives, there is nothing like an Israeli breakfast (which is typically salty – fresh bread and vegetables, herbs, all kind of cheese and, of course, olives). I still can’t handle the sweetness of Honey Nut Cheerios.
BA: What does your public creative process look like?
TH: When I go on a painting trip, I always take with me my little carry-on in which I pack watercolor-paper journal, watercolor paints and a few colored pencils. After take-off I draw with the pencils, then I check out the color atmosphere with the watercolor paints, and finally I use the pencils again, to write the text.
Later, at home, after recovering from the jet-lag, if I feel that some spots came out ‘too weak’, or if there is a need to bold a word, I use touches of acrylic paint.
Hammer’s traveling box of paints