Forgive me, Father, for I have (click here) 

Have you ever strolled down an empty, big-city street and, though no people were in sight, you didn't feel alone? People may have been tucked away behind walls and windows doing what they do, but layers of past conversation and movement seemed to linger, far beyond human sight and sound. The overall perception is one of energy and life, not estrangement. Peering into one of Bryce Hammond's urban settings evokes a similar sensation.

Too bad the New Smyrna Beach artist's first and very significant local solo exhibition opened Sept. 10, the weekend between the two storms. Lucky for us, Recent Works: Bryce Hammond continues through Oct. 24. This inventive exhibition of 59 new works "created within the last two years," Hammond says, brings a blast of bright colors and clever imagery into the Maitland Art Center. Most of the paintings are already sold, so the show is a rare chance to take in this artist's striking body of work.

Hammond, 33, would appear to hold workaholic standards, but he's a regular surfer with a studio and office in his home, which he shares with his wife and two young kids. Raised in New Smyrna, Hammond claims his past proudly: "I was a skateboarder, and that's where I came from."

He moved to Atlanta after college in Greenville, S.C., and began instigating punky warehouse parties. "I was grungy, doing graffiti, doing the street thing, just running with crews doing drawings; at the same time, I was painting real art. At some point the two – art and graffiti, I had kept them separate – just came together. And I lost a lot of the traditional graffiti styles."

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It was Hammond's hand-to-mouth existence living on the Lower East Side of New York City, from 1993 to 2000, that he cites as his real school of art. He was networking with other talented young artists and constantly evolving. "I wanted to be stronger, stronger and stronger," he says. "I went a bit modernist during that time," stripping out the narratives conjured in his paintings by characters such as "Don Q fighting a subway train." Instead, he nailed his "mathematical perspective" based upon the Renaissance masters. Hammond grounds his paintings on a grid, so his structures are both orderly and busy, depending on how you look at it. When a viewer's eyes lock into the lines and angles, other endless dimensions open wide. You can stare at his work for hours, no drugs required to blow your mind.

Hammond's graffiti instincts are obvious but understated, and they rarely take over. His cartoony cast of characters work their way in on a billboard or as window dressing, as in "Tender Steaks, Carter Motel" (2003), or the Rauschenberg-like dogs repeated along the top and bottom borders of "Dog Town, Flushing Queens" (2003). Hammond honors the influence of Jean-Michel Basquiat, working in a crown to prove it – only with two lines underneath it, "like Basquiat, the second," he says.

As for words, sometimes Hammond's textual expressions are big and bold; other times, he densely endows the canvas with random scribblings, then paints over them with another layer or two, or 12. Paint drips melt down from the borders, which are frequently painted bright red or other primary colors. For the viewer, these underlayers of words and phrases could be thought of as the ghostly leftovers of those who frequent the sidewalks and squats. One is never really alone on Hammond's streets.

"I took away a career `from New York`. I built my whole career at the time I lived there. Everything I do has to do with that – the layering, the imagery has to do with how I lived there," Hammond says. After leaving New York City, and on his way to Los Angeles, Hammond came back to New Smyrna Beach for a quick visit, met up with a girl he knew in high school, and never left.

"Now," he says with a laugh, "I'm just living through my kids."

Speaking of News Of The Weird

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