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Brushes with Fame

John Hammer’s distinctive, colorful, pop art painting style is striking and attention-grabbing, and his commissioned work is highly coveted.

Article
Michele Chiappetta
Photos
Sarah Eliza Roberts
Posted
October 28, 2018

If you’re from Tulsa, you probably are quite familiar already with John Hammer’s name. But even if you’re not, you’ve likely seen his art around town. He’s designed imagery for the Tulsa American Film Festival, and exhibited his work around Green Country at places like the Tulsa Artists’ Coalition Gallery, OSUIT-Okmulgee, the Woody Guthrie Center, the Will Rogers Memorial and Museum, and the BOK Center.

Hammer’s distinctive, colorful, pop art painting style is striking and attention-grabbing. Look at it, and you’ll see his influences — the graphic approach of Andy Warhol, Van Gogh’s brush strokes and colors, Norman Rockwell’s way of telling a story in pictures. It looks like he’s been painting and perfecting his craft for years.

But in fact, he’s only been painting for about six years — though he’s pursued art of different types since he was a young child. “I’ve always been into art and always done it, and it’s always been a part of my life,” he says. His earliest memories of creating art go back to elementary school. “I remember drawing and getting a response from people,” he says. “I drew all the time. I would try to copy all the pictures of MAD magazine, and album covers like KISS.” (He’s a big fan of the band.)

Hammer’s future plans include expanding his artwork regionally and doing more print making. (Photo: Sarah Eliza Roberts)
Hammer’s future plans include expanding his artwork regionally and doing more print making. (Photo: Sarah Eliza Roberts)

“It didn’t ever pop into my head that I had to figure out what I was going to do with my life,” he says. “I just knew there were people who were out there who paint pictures, so I always knew I was going to head in that direction.

“I got talked into the graphic angle, the ‘you can’t make a living as an artist’ speech, which is a horrible thing to tell anybody,” says Hammer, remembering those early years. “So I went into graphic design with the idea that I would someday pursue art.” His commercial graphic design work was successful, and it’s something he doesn’t regret doing. “I’m glad I did it,” he says. “I love design, and I think it has molded who I am as an artist today.”

Then, a few years ago, a whole new world of opportunity opened up for his creative side. “I never really painted, just did pen and ink for projects I worked on,” he says. “Then, six years ago, I picked up a paint brush for the first time. It was fairly new to me, but I enjoyed the heck out of it.”

John Hammer’s distinctive, colorful, pop art painting style is striking and attention-grabbing. (Photo: Sarah Eliza Roberts)
John Hammer’s distinctive, colorful, pop art painting style is striking and attention-grabbing. (Photo: Sarah Eliza Roberts)

At the time, he hadn’t settled firmly into painting as a second career. In fact, he thought he would go in a different direction. “I did some linoleum cuts and screen prints, and I thought that’s what I was going to pursue. I even took some workshops in it.”

So, how did that change to painting? Hammer credits his family. “My wife had been bugging me for a while to join in with arts and crafts with the grandchildren. I finally agreed. We were out on the back deck and painted flowers.” At that point, he realized a couple of things — he enjoyed painting, and he was pretty good at it. “It was a fluke thing. But I kept painting more and more.”

That decision to paint has been a good one, as it turns out. Hammer’s commissioned work has been highly coveted. His most recent piece is a mural commemorating Claremore, his hometown these days. The mural, his first ever, was unveiled in October 2018, and it showcases both what makes Claremore great and what makes Hammer’s art so cool.

“The city of Claremore approached me because they’re trying to clean up the alleyways and bring life to downtown. And a way to do that is murals,” Hammer explains. “I picked the wall not thinking I would do the whole thing, but then I decided to do the whole wall. It’s an homage to Claremore, which is my hometown now.”

The mural’s imagery is structured around the theme, “Travelers of Both Time and Space.” It features a portrait of a local astronaut from our area, Stuart Roosa, in his NASA outfit, as well as a depiction of Apollo 14 (which Roosa flew on), a portrait of Will Rogers, the Route 66 highway sign, and a quote from Will Rogers about traveling. The bright, almost neon shades of orange, blue, green and red pop and draw the eye.

“It was a lot of fun and a challenge and a good learning experience,” says Hammer. “I will probably do it again in the future.”

Hammer’s future plans include expanding his artwork regionally and doing more print making. In fact, he’s done a print image of the Meadow Gold sign that says “Stay Gold” in honor of The Outsiders restoration project house. “It’s available as a fundraiser for them,” he says.