Lunar Voyage, British painter and printmaker Tom Hammick’s series of 17 woodcuts shown in its entirety for the first time, is a thoughtful and thought-provoking journey into space offering a metaphor for the artist’s own odyssey. He has poured into his work references from that era when space travel to the moon caught the imagination of a child growing up in the 1970s and influenced a generation of film makers, authors, architects and creative thinkers generally.
In Cloud Island, the man in the boat, the artist himself, leaves his home as represented by a symbolic island, the perfect Eden representing the world, a recurring motif in Hammick’s work. The idea of what is a home is asked here. Is it just the place you pitch your tent, so to speak? Is home a state of mind? Whatever, the warm glow of the domestic scene inside contrasts with the darkness and solitude evoked by the water and sky, with the trees rustling in the wind in the moonlight. The sky itself resembles an astrological chart. We all have something to run away from – we all do it, perhaps it’s pre-ordained, in the stars.
“I had this growing idea that I wanted to create a journey as a metaphor for the life of the artist and how impossible it is for anyone living with an artist,” says Hammick. “They have to be alone to make their work.”
Like Homer’s Odyssey, Tom Hammick’s Lunar Voyage is non-linear. The first picture sees him looking at the moon through a telescope. Yet he is an old man who is looking at somewhere he has been. In another picture, Lunography, the Latin names of the moon’s topography are interspersed with the addresses of places Hammick has lived. Memory and wonderment are key themes.
In Journey to the Moon, he blasts off in a marvellous riot of colour expressing the explosive roar at lift-off. The rocket and typography is straight out of Hergé’s Tintin. There’s a nod here also to environmentalism. “It seems so profligate using all that energy to get a couple of tons out into space using thousands and thousands of tons of fuel. I wanted to try and create that with this image.”
As the rocket is hurtled into space, the tiny figure is isolated in his tiny capsule. The whole series creates a sense of loneliness. As Hammick says, “I spend a lot of time in my studio.” The images he creates have direct echoes to those pictures of the earth taken by Apollo 8. There are allusions to films, particularly Tarkovsky’s Solaris and, of course, Kubrik’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. He uses wood grain to capture both the rocket’s path of flight as well as the static of space.
By Chamber, we are on the moon, the picture dominated by a kind of Buckminster Fuller biosphere in the background. The dreamscape that Hammick creates is emphasised by a picture, a thought-bubble perhaps, of a scene back on earth where the moon is fulfilling its earthly function of casting light. The traveller has come for peace and solitude but is haunted by memories of home. The woman appears ghost-like, hovering over a window or is it a trap-door? Is the rocket coming or leaving? Hammick is being playful here. The woman is wearing a retro-style dress and the carpet pattern is taken straight from the hotel in Kubrick’s The Shining.
Eventually, he returns home with the realisation that there’s nothing much going on up there and we have no other place to go. Nightfall sees the rocket ship returning in a blaze of glory while his family, faceless to imply universality, seem oblivious, not even looking. They have their own interests, concerns, egos. They’re all wearing trendy, designer clothes. “I‘m creating a metaphor for how unbelievably complex we are as people. Someone has to make this and design it and weave it.”
So, the modern Odysseus returns, having tried to find himself, saying he’s going to stop doing such mad things. But of course, though there’s the message here that the yearning to be alone and to make work as an artist may be hubris, if you are an artist, or a poet, playwright or whatever, you have a constant urge to keep making work despite the hardships. Maybe it’s pre-ordained. Though it may be tough for those around them, the resulting art and ideas can enrich the human condition, and in its small way, Lunar Voyage, with its many layers wrapped up in a comic-strip dreamscape, does precisely this.
Lunar Voyage is showing at The Flowers Gallery, 82 Kingsland Road, London E2 8DP until 5 May.
All images are courtesy of the artist and gallery.