Arion Lyre

99. Animal Farmthe novel by George Orwell, with an introduction by the historian Peter Stansky, illustrated by Jonathan Hammer.

Animal Farm, the novel by George Orwell, with an introduction by the historian Peter Stansky, twenty-four prints by the artist Jonathan Hammer, and an extra suite of the prints, hand-colored, December 2013.


I live in a Spanish village of twenty-eight human inhabitants, many pigs, about a thousand sheep, and countless chickens. There was once an ass; he was euthanized when he was too old to work. Laguarres has two streets, but I count at least four distinct barrios and five cliques. Divisions from the Civil War still run deep. Spanish friends laugh when we tell them where we live. La Guarra is slang for a filthy sow.

One reads Animal Farm as a parable, with a strong moral lesson to be learned, maximally pedagogical. There is not a lot of room for art. No wonder the book is taught in every school! In historiographical terms the literal struggles Orwell recounts are fading fast. He subtitles Animal Farm a fairy story. What if we actually read it as such, not as a factual text to be illustrated, but as a guide to an archetypal sense of human interaction and desire? Perhaps satire and corruption are all around us. For me, the interest lies in the place where the art sparks. There is nothing more deliciously frightening than the collision/collusion of the sneering repressed self-deprecating right as it meets and melds with the disdainful well-meaning passive left. In the village, I live within the midst of this equation every day. Violence is nearby and skin deep. I have always worked with books and bindings. Skin is my tool, to be cut and skived, hacked, and chopped. Write with the knife. Expose the extreme to the bone.

Here, like everywhere, we have a veneer of education that somehow holds it all together in civility. But education in the hands of whom, as a tool for what purpose? Who is the victim and who is the victimizer? Who is the master and who is the gelding? A silk purse from a sow's ear. Pearls juxtaposed with swine. Indeed, what more natural way for me to make Animal Farm art, than through the welcome of butchery and finery in cohabitation.


Jonathan Hammer was born in 1960 in Chicago. He graduated from Bard College and studied bookbinding at the London College of Printing. For a time, when he lived in San Francisco, he worked at Arion Press as a bookbinder. Then he went on to fame and fortune as an artist. Hammer has had more than forty one-person exhibitions. For twenty-five years he has worked in several mediums including works on paper, photography, unique books, sculptures, and prints, as well as his signature screens made from marquetry of exotic skins. Hammer has exhibited widely in Germany, Switzerland, Norway, France, England, Spain, Mexico, and the United States. He has had nine solo exhibitions in New York (including five at the Matthew Marks Gallery). Along with numerous group exhibitions in museums, Hammer has had solo shows in Geneva at the Centre d’Art Contemporain and the Berkeley Art Museum. His works are in many private and public collections including: the Museum of Modern Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Hammer Museum, UCLA; Berkeley Art Museum; Whitney Museum of American Art; New York Public Library; and the Jumex Collection. An authority on Zurich Dada, Hammer has published his critical writings on the subject in his book Ball and Hammer, Yale University Press, 2002. Hammer has recently completed a cycle of large sculptures in porcelain with the Bernardaud Foundation in Limoges, France. He has received honors from Art Matters, Pro Helvetia (the Swiss Arts Council), and The Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture. He is represented by the Miyako Yoshinaga Gallery, New York.

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