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Artist uses an alphabet of images

 Mount Holyoke College student Syelden Namgyel examines Jane Hammond's 'My Heavens,' at the school's museum of art.
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Date published: 10/23/2006



SOUTH HADLEY, Mass.--If language has the ability to conjure images, Jane Hammond's looks like this: fluttering butterflies, Sumo wrestlers and Gandhi's head.

Since the late 1980s, the New York artist has created an alphabet of 276 images taken from books, magazines and photographs that she strings together in seemingly random ways that can confuse and delight a viewer.

What, for example, is Elvis doing on a matchbook cover affixed to a piece of paper that shares space with a cross-legged Buddha? And why is a bear towering over Gandhi's head as it emerges from a mountainside lake? The answers are pretty much up to the viewer, Hammond says.

"I am genuinely interested in how meaning is constructed," said the artist, whose works are being displayed at Mount Holyoke College in "Jane Hammond: Paper Work."

"Using a fixed set of components in my work allows me to make meaning and examine how meaning is made," the 56-year-old Hammond said.

A 1972 graduate of Mount Holyoke, Hammond's work has been featured at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, the Contemporary Museum in Honolulu and the Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art.

While her works seem to spring from an arbitrary sense of design, everything in them has a sense of order that Hammond likens to strands of DNA. Because she works with a limited number of images, patterns of repetition begin to emerge, especially in her collagelike creations.

She has limited her iconic lexicon to 276 for no other reason than she figured that's exactly what she needs.

But just because the same cymbal-clapping seal appears in a few of her works, the beast isn't necessarily meant to evoke the same meaning each time.

A digital image of an anchor used in one place could conjure a connection with the sea, while the same image reproduced with a stamp could give the feeling of rust and decay, Hammond said.

"Her work isn't about beauty, per se, but I find it ravishingly beautiful," said Marianne Doezema, director of Mount Holyoke's art museum.

Hammond's work also uses materials that are not often combined. She combines whatever seems to grab her interest--Xeroxes, watercolor, rubber stamps, bits of plastic toys and feather boas--to create pieces that she calls drawings and "unique paper objects."

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"Paper Work" is at Mount Holyoke until Dec. 17, and will travel for two years to museums in Arizona, Wisconsin, Arkansas, New York, California and Michigan.