Currently at the Kerry Schuss Gallery is a very special exhibition. Many retrospectives cover decades, but this one is only six years long. It is a sensitive, sweet coverage of the artist’s recovery from a serious stroke in 1990, and the work he created from that point up until his death in 1996.
A navy veteran from South Carolina, Hamilton was taking art classes through a nonprofit called Healing Arts Initiative (or H.A.I) as he relearned his body. With pens, pencils, and paint on large sheets of cheap paper, he traced objects of his life over and over. You can see how he struggled to keep a pen steady, or where he practiced writing his own name in huge, wandering letters.
There’s nothing childlike in his art, despite the deceptively remedial subject choices. When he draws his hands and paints them clumsily in blue with red blogs for nails, the right hand is twisted, just like his. When he draws shoes or feet, they are always staggered slightly, like those of a man who walks with effort. Windows are high on the page, as they would be seen by someone who spent more time in a chair than standing. A single clock, drawn with particular care, seems to be full of tense waiting. A knotted fist and a cane, both colored in with furious blue hatching in ball-point pen, are surrounded by seemingly manic lists of numbers. Costs? Days? There’s no knowing.
The only writings we have by Ray Hamilton are the things in the background of his artworks—lists and places and the occasional far-off date. Mostly his own name, scrawled or printed in a painstakingly stylized print or somewhere in-between, unmistakably the marks of a man trying to affirm for himself that he is who he always has been: Ray Hamilton.
Ray Hamilton: Drawings began in January and will continue through March 12th. Kerry Schuss Gallery is located at 34 Orchard Street, Manhattan. See it before it’s gone.