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Object: Traffic Cop Bay

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Title Traffic Cop Bay
Production Hammond, W. D. (artist), 2003, Lyttelton
Medium summary acrylic on canvas
Materials acrylic paint, canvas
Classification paintings
Dimensions Overall: 2000mm (Height) x 3750mm (Length)
Credit line Purchased 2003
Registration number 2003-0027-1/A-C to C-C

This large acrylic painting by Bill Hammond is named after Traffic Cop Bay, an area close to the artist's home in Lyttelton near Christchurch. Painted in 2003, Traffic Cop Bay features Hammond's characteristic 'birds' - elongated human figures with bird heads and wings. In an ambiguous space filled with unlikely objects and land masses, the bird figures perform various activities which are both familiar and utterly foreign.

The artist as time-traveller
In 1989 Hammond visited the Auckland Islands, located about 450 kilometres south of New Zealand as part of the Art in the Subantarctic project. He commented: 'You feel like a time-traveller, as if you have just stumbled upon it - primeval forests, ratas like Walt Disney would make. It's a beautiful place, but it's also full of ghosts, shipwrecks, death …'

The visit marked a dramatic change in Hammond's art. His 1980s' preoccupation with rock music and domestic interiors was replaced by paintings of birds that stand as guardians of ecological history as well as ecological irresponsibility. The critic Max Podstolski has suggested that for Hammond the Auckland Islands evoked a lost paradise, a primeval 'birdland' from a time before human impact. Traffic Cop Bay is part of Hammond's evolving vision of the New Zealand landscape crammed with 'ghosts, shipwrecks, death'.

Watching for Buller
The subject matter of Traffic Cop Bay was first established in Hammond's Watching for Buller paintings. Hammond's paintings often make reference to Walter Buller, author of the book Birds of New Zealand first published in 1873. In 1994 Hammond commented: 'The Watching for Buller paintings started with the clothing, the dresses with ferns on them. On top of the dress, I wanted to put a passive head, a head that did not show any human qualities, any personality. Birds are perfect - they're calm, they don't have expressions.' In Traffic Cop Bay, the clothes have developed into traceries of ferns that pattern the upper bodies of the figures. Near the centre of the painting is a target-practice dummy with its back turned to the viewer. Is this a self-portrait of the artist, or does it represent Buller, a man that the artist has referred to as 'the bird stuffer'?

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