Frederick Hammersley was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. He attended the University of Idaho from 1936 to 1938 and then studied commercial art from 1940 to 1942 at the Chouinard School of Art in Los Angeles, California. While serving as an Army sergeant in World War II from 1942-45 he was stationed in Paris and after he was discharged in 1945, took the opportunity to study at the École des Beaux-Arts. He also visited the studios of Picasso, Brancusi, and Cezanne. He attended the Jepson Art School, also in Los Angeles, from 1947 to 1950 on the GI Bill. During this time he began experimenting with abstract imagery and by the late 1940s after returning from Europe, he had begun systematically reducing traditional imagery into simple, flat, colored and patterned shapes.
Hammersley held teaching positions at several colleges in the 1960s including: Pomona College in Claremont from 1953-62, the Pasadena Art Museum from 1956-61, and Chouinard from 1964-68. While teaching at the Pomona College in Claremont, California, Hammersley met Karl Benjamin. Along with John McLaughlin and Lorser Feitelson, they participated in Four Abstract Classicists (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1959), which identified them as the founders of the West Coast “Hard-Edge” style. Hammersley developed a style that broke from representational art, focusing on geometric simplicity, linear precision, and purity of form and color. Through works with witty and poetic titles, he marries visual aesthetics and verbal imagery.
Frederick Hammersley moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1968 to take a teaching position at the University of New Mexico. He stopped teaching in 1971 in order to paint full-time. The next decade was one of his most prolific as he produced a large number of geometric paintings—mostly square, based on an implicit grid, and of varying scale but no more than 45 by 45 inches—as well as numerous prints and drawings, thanks in part to a Guggenheim Fellowship (1973), two NEA grants (1975), and invitations from Tamarind Institute. Hammersley had a retrospective of his paintings at the University of New Mexico Art Museum in 1975.
In New York, his work was included in Geometric Abstraction in America at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1962, Fifty California Artists at the Whitney the same year, and The Responsive Eye at the Museum of Modern Art in 1965.
In 2007 Hammersley was included in the Orange County Museum of Art’s exhibition Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design and Culture at Midcentury and the Columbus Museum of Art’s Optic Nerve: Perceptual Art of the 1960s. More recently Hammersley’s paintings were seen in the J. Paul Getty Museum’s Pacific Standard Time: Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture, 1945-1970 in 2011 and Geometric Unconscious: A Century of Abstraction at the Sheldon Museum of Art in 2012. A major monograph on Frederick Hammersley was published in 2009.
Hammersley’s work is in may public collections, including: the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, California; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California; Albuquerque Museum, New Mexico; Phoenix Art Museum, Arizona; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY; and the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA, among others.