Guest Blog by Bernie Ross, daughter of the late artist Cyril Hamersma.
Twenty years ago Braintree’s most unusual artist passed away leaving an overwhelming legacy of artwork. The museum took the majority of it into safekeeping, undertook the task of cataloguing it and now have an archive of his work that is bigger than any other art collection held by the museum. Owing to storage difficulties for the larger paintings and sculptures the Hamersma family agreed to preserve these particular pieces as digital images only – these images are also in the care of Braintree District Museum.
Hamersma first moved to Halstead in 1962 and was inspired by the characterful towns and beautiful North Essex countryside. His pieces were created using copious amounts of oil paint every day. Hamersma did various manual jobs to pay for it and took inspiration from them all, whether as a postman in Halstead or cycling toward Bocking Courtaulds for his cleaning job – to him they offered a chance to observe and paint his surroundings. At the Dye House in Bocking he painted portraits of regular characters during his lunch hour. Some years later he created numerous colourful caricatures of ubiquitous personalities like Dennis Healey and Terry Waite.
For a short while Hamersma lived in Coggeshall and filled his garden with stunning white sculptures. In between painting and going to work in the late 1960s he renovated two small cottages in Thistley Green Road; he then lived in Pretoria House in Halstead’s Head Street and opened it to the public to show geometric white wall-hangings. In the early 1980s he lived on Notley Road where he was frequently seen painting at his easel in the garden. Next came a bungalow in White Notley where his huge ‘Cat with a Ball of Wool’ installation turned many heads. Finally he settled in Rosemary Avenue, Braintree where neighbours frequently saw his ‘Art on a Line’ sculptures hanging in the garden, and paintings being held up by his wife, Joyce, for him to photograph. At one of his exhibitions in Braintree Town Hall (before the new library was built) he hung an enormous fried egg in the market square to entice people into the show.
He may be remembered by some for the magnificent ‘Shoe Sculpture Timepiece Installation’ he organised around Braintree Fountain in 1986, inviting the public to bring along old shoes and strategically place them, thereby participating in the finished sculpture. At the end of the day all the shoes went to charity.
In his latter years and even with failing health Hamersma mounted exhibitions and installations in places as far afield as Tunbridge Wells (Kerbscapes) and Leicester’s Abbey Park Arts Festivals where he hung 17 foot long socks on a line; another year at the festival he constructed ‘the world’s biggest spider’s web’ reaching from the marquee to the bandstand, tops of trees and other high points. He always, always notified the media and gained some recognition particularly from local TV, The Guardian newspaper and The Times.
Shapes in a cobweb’s structure resemble ‘The Squircle’, the pinnacle of his work, created from a lifelong study of cells and the distillation of ‘the line’. “It signifies the triumph of white over black,” he said, “the force of the white (light) enveloping and destroying the black (night)”. He referred to it as a spiritual triumph of light over dark, good over evil. ‘The Squircle’ – his most enduring style, can be traced back through all his paintings to 1950s and before.
Hamersma was a religious man and enjoyed the fellowship at St Michael’s Church and St Peter’s, but above all he regarded his art as a direct expression of God and one of his sketchpad notes says, “God works through the artist to open his children’s eyes”.
There are books for sale in the museum shop about Hamersma’s life and art. But also – not to be missed – if you use Facebook you can see the numerous bright and colourful paintings including the many portraits, Squircles, and especially local Essex street scenes on http://www.facebook.com/BritishArtistHamersma where a new painting is posted almost daily, giving some details and context.