All photos by Rich West
I first became aware of Jack ‘Hammy’ Hamilton’s artwork via an exhibition of work he displayed at Hackney Road’s much missed Parlour Skate Store – a standardly boozy evening, aesthetically enhanced by Jack’s finely detailed freak show of perfectly captured grotesques and had me quickly searching out more of his work.
I already knew Jack as the guy smacking his liens to tail really fucking hard at skateparks across London, or filming his crew on whatever they stumbled across with their boards, but it’s always rad to peel back the onion and find out about the non-skateboard pastimes of the various rippers you come across in the extended family of skateboarders which criss-crosses the globe.
Thus, fast forward a couple of years and when I was working out plans for who I wanted to interview this spring, Jack was at the top of the list. We caught up on a rare sunny February day in London, after a session breathing in traffic fumes at Greenwich’s venerable hip spot, to talk his artistic beginnings, Robert Crumb, his future video plans and much more – all of which you can read about below, alongside some of his illustration work and a bevy of photos by Rich West…
So to start things off, what came first - drawing or skateboarding?
I’ve always drawn – everyone draws at school I guess, so drawing came first. Then I started skating about ten years ago now, through the Tony Hawk games. I used to play football and then got Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 – me and my mate were well into games – I told him about that one and he had a board from years ago so we played around on that Then I bought a crappy No Fear board and have never stopped. I remember when I first got it, my Nan said “You won’t be on that thing for five minutes", but here we are.
You obviously have a penchant for humorously grotesque characters, where do you draw your influence from?
I always wondered that; why am I drawn to these ugly goblin monsters and weird shit like that? I think it’s outsider art in a way. Maybe there’s something in that? One person who really blew my mind was Robert Crumb, he is just brilliant - a big inspiration and influence. I read The Beano as well when I was a kid – Leo Baxendale, Tom Paterson and Ken Reid are all sick, their work has definitely seeped into me from when I used to read them as a kid.
I remember in secondary school, when I first got really into drawing I was hyped on people who skated and drew as well. At the time I was more into skating than drawing so seeing people like Kyle Platts, Paul Parker, Sam Taylor, French and all those guys inspired me - obviously I liked there work as well haha.
One of my favourite cartoonists is Jim Woodring and his work is sometimes grotesque and cartoony. He says one thing he likes in artwork is the contrast between the two, and that scary/funny thing is something that I try to get in my work as well.
Photo: Rich West
"I always wondered that; why am I drawn to these ugly goblin monsters and weird shit like that?"
Do you find yourself generally sticking to pen and ink methods, or do you have any other preferred mediums?
I mainly use a dip pen and ink, an old fashioned one where you get the nibs to dip into the ink. It gives a nice amount of varied widths with the line and leaves a thick trail of black ink on the paper. I can use Photoshop and that but I prefer ink, watercolours and colouring pencils etc. Don’t get me wrong, the computer is an incredible tool for making art with but for me I like to have that physical object at the end and not just a computer file. It depends on what you're trying to achieve in your work I guess. For me, spending all day scratching at a piece of paper is way better than staring at a screen all day and I like to have that physical object at the end.
I’ve been playing around with stop motion animation using plasticine recently, doing little tests. I’ve been watching Wallace and Gromit as well, The Wrong Trousers is so sick! I’ve been practicing with that and am working on an animation with a couple of mates. We are pretty much winging it but it's real fun! They do music, Film and photography as well so we all have something to bring to it.
You were the pen behind the graphics for the Boroughs series Jake Martinelli did for us as well as the Rugged Raw boards themselves - how did you get to know Jake and the Rugged Raw crew?
Well we are all from North East London and Essex so I knew Jake from ages ago – I used to skate Harlow all the time before I skated London and the scene was fucking sick with Motel Six and the park. For a little town in Essex it was so good, definitely what got me stoked. Jake’s a bit older and he skated there and I guess I just knew him from there and seeing him in London. I know Bell, Dave Vise and Jack Longman from back when I first started skating as they all lived in Theydon or close by, then I know like all the Leytonstone lot from Mile End.
Did you ever see much sketchy shit go down at Harlow Skatepark? I remember visiting a couple of times when it first opened and seeing some pretty rough stuff, pre-teens with blood covered
I’ve seen some fights go down there [laughs], I remember one in particular with everyone crowding around - there was one guy getting battered and pushed into a bush, he had blood all over his face. But I remember when the handrail used to be there - it was a big rail at the time - I filmed my mate Luke Cliff try to boardslide it and as he popped his board he basically star jumped straight on to his nuts at the end of the rail...that was one of the gnarliest!
Photo: Rich West
Having done graphics for a number of skateboard related companies, who have been some of your favourites to work with?
Working with Nick Zorlac is really good, he gives me lots of room to experiment which is great. I did a thing for Altar Skate Shop, I was pretty stoked on that. No one’s been a pain to work with, if anything I’m more of a pain [laughs]. Jake, Altar, Death…
That’s a good three to be fair!
Definitely, I’m stoked on all of them. I mean Death, I grew up with their videos. It was part of my upbringing, having them on DVD. I had other videos but with Death videos the vibe, the music – [Mark] Nicolson just smashes it. I think maybe especially with the Big Pushes, this bunch of freaks just going out and skating these crazy spots. I like editing where you don’t see just the skating but the downtime documented as well, the hi-jinx alongside the skating. So to do a board for them, I’m still stoked on that.
You also worked with Parlour a couple of years ago on an exhibition of your work – how important was the influence of Bryce and Carl’s shop and how much of a hole has it left in the London scene now they’re gone?
Bryce and Carl are absolute fucking legends and those Mile End Parlour days were golden! There were so many people there and having the shop and the miniramp made the scene so sick. We built the little DIY quarter over the fence, they hosted all those rad events at the second shop and the night I had the exhibition they paid for all those beers out of their own pocket. It’s such a shame they had to close down. They have left a hole by no longer being there but they made the scene sick by attracting so many people to skate there. Because of that the scene there is still going strong today, you know?
Big up Bryce and Carl for sure!
I've noticed from your blog and Instagram that you've also done a few gig and tour flyers - how much does music influence what you do and do you follow any of the various 'flyer art' accounts on Instagram?
Naa I don’t! [laughs] And you want to know how much music is an influence? I’d say quite a lot really. I like guitar stuff a lot; blues, rock and roll, punk, metal, stuff like that. I listen to all sorts though, I like stuff that's got guts to it! Stuff where to me at least, the purpose seems sincere and is not created to brand, market, advertise, sell and ram some fake consumer bullshit down your throat. Metal and punk go with skating as well, it's adrenaline music.
Following on from that, last year you did a comic for a Misfits-themed zine - what's your opinion on the recent reformation? Cynical cash in, or legit chance to see something less awful than the Jerry Only cheese-fest?
I didn’t even know about the reformation to be honest! Russell Taysom hit me up to do a piece for that zine through Instagram. I like the Misfits and I love Samhain, November Coming Fire is a sick album! Properly dark and sinister…
Photo: Rich West
"If I want to sit on the internet I’ll do that at home, you know? We were in Barcelona recently, even when I did have an internet phone I’d still use my brick phone."
Going back to Robert Crumb, some time ago you posted one of his quotes concerning market forces and the effect they exert on the creation of art - do you feel that, at this point of hyper capitalism twinned with the 'instant gratification' expected by many now that the internet gives you so much at the press of a button, that independent art will suffer? Or do you reckon that it is this adversity that causes truly subversive, thought-provoking art to flourish just underneath the surface of 'popular' culture?
Yeah I agree and that’s a really good quote as well. What he said was;
“All the people who work in the commercial culture are part of a conspiracy against the average man to get his money. They are not concerned with what effect their product might ultimately have, physically or spiritually. They are always looking for the lowest common denominator, the broadest possible market. They don’t care what that might be. If Jesus movies are putting butts in theatre seats, they’ll make Jesus movies. If ultra violence appeals to a certain segment of the population, the butchers are happy to provide it for them. Basically, the commercial media culture is a cold, merciless mechanism that is there to feed money to the people who perpetuate it. Before industrial civilization, local and regional communities made their own music, their own entertainment. The aesthetics were based on traditions that went far back in time - i.e. folklore. But part of the con of mass culture is to make you forget history, disconnect you from tradition and the past. Sometimes that can be a good thing. Sometimes it can even be revolutionary. But tradition can also keep culture on an authentic human level, the homespun as opposed to the mass produced. Industrial civilisation figured out how to manufacture popular culture and sell it back to the people. You have to marvel at the ingenuity of it! The problem is that the longer this buying and selling goes on, the more hollow and bankrupt the culture becomes. It loses its fertility, like worn out, ravaged farmland."
Like I said about the music earlier and same goes with a lot of things, I want something that seems sincere in purpose. Love over gold!
Carrying on from the first half of that question, how do you see social media apps like Instagram with regards to ease of getting work seen vs. said art being seen as a public commodity and less artists being able to create full time?
I think the internet is sick, in general – I can find things out and research and do all of these things. Instagram is really weird. When it comes to art I don’t like the format really, it’s hard to appreciate something on a little phone with ten billion things also competing for your attention. The whole 'likes' thing is a load of shit, but there is a community on there which is sick – you can see what people are doing, people can see my work. I’ve gotten commissions from putting work up on there, so it's a mixed bag.
It can feel like a trap sometimes but compared with what I see these days, people spending a lot of time on their phones or the internet, I feel like I’ve got a healthy balance where I engage with Instagram without going overboard and wasting time. When I’m outside I want to be with people, talking to people, looking at things. If I want to sit on the internet I’ll do that at home, you know?
You, the Delarue twins and the rest of that crew seem pretty hyped up to go on road trips and skate different places - what keeps you guys travelling so much?
Fuck, I don’t know…just everything you see is a spot, isn’t it? You’re sitting on a bus or wherever – even sitting in this beer garden now I’m eyeing up these benches. It’s a complete resync of everything, you’re constantly exploring. Someone will see a curb in the car park and pay absolutely no attention to it whatsoever, but if you skate then that curb isn’t just a curb anymore.
But I don’t think we go too many places...I guess we’ve missioned to Bristol a bit, Brighton, Essex, Manchester, a few trips abroad. Maybe we do get about a bit!
It seems like you do from the ‘Sludge Brain’ videos! Talking of which, when can we expect another instalment in the series?
I’ve got footage saved up, a load of good shit from Copenhagen, Bristol, Newquay – some really good skating. But I'm going to do something a bit different with it, it's time to lay the Sludge Brain series to rest I think. I’d like to do something a bit different, put more effort into them. At the moment I’m more of a skater with a camera, we wouldn’t really go to spots to film but we’d just be skating and I’d get the camera out. Then I’d just whack it in an edit! They weren’t meant to be serious, I kind of always thought of them as a thing to look back on.
But I’ve got footage and I’m going to make something soon, I guess it will be ready when it's ready.
Do you see a possibility of, or even want to consider the pursuit of artwork as a career, or is it something you prefer to do in your free time?
I want to do both - I still live at home, I do my own work and illustration work but I don’t earn enough to make a solid career. Saying that, things are going good. Im still figuring it all out really, in both illustration and my own stuff.
To finish up, what do you have planned next drawing-wise?
I’ve got a load of things going on right now, I'm going to be working on a board for Nicolson soon which I can’t wait to start. I'm doing that stop frame animation and I've got a show planned for the middle of the year as well. Apart from that, I want to just keep drawing!