Call him a major minor.
At 14, Tex Hammond is the youngest artist ever to exhibit at the L.A. Art Show, which is currently running at the L.A. Convention Center through Sunday. “Major Minor” is the name of Hammond’s exhibition there.
“It’s a little overwhelming, dude,” Hammond said in a recent phone interview from his home in Pasadena, just days before the fair is set to open. “But I’m pretty proud of myself.”
Hammond’s exhibit at the fair, organized by Acosta Arts, which manages the 10th grader’s artistic endeavors, includes 20 paintings and drawings presented in an immersive environment meant to illuminate a teenager’s perspective during the pandemic. Specifically, it speaks to distance learning, alienation and the struggle to find balance amid a world seemingly turned on its head.
The exhibition space is fashioned as a schoolhouse tipped on its side, with a desk and chair on the wall along with a trashcan overflowing with crumpled, doodled homework. A hanging clock displays the numbers in reverse. A large painting, on chalkboard material, is positioned on its side. Hammond’s manager, Carmen Acosta, presides over the exhibition sitting at a small desk, as if she were a schoolteacher. Beside her is a cup filled with custom pencils bearing the names of the art fair and the artist.
Visitors may feel somewhat disoriented in the topsy-turvy learning environment, but that’s the point, Hammond said.
“It’s really weird but it gives across a certain vibe,” Hammond said. “The pandemic was hard for me, man. This is all based on distance learning, and going in person again, and dealing with all that through art.”
Hammond, a shaggy-haired kid with a penchant for dying his hair a rainbow of colors, skipped fifth grade and is currently a sophomore at California School of the Arts, San Gabriel Valley, where he’s a visual arts major. He spent most of eighth grade and all of his freshman year learning remotely. He’s now attending school in-person again, but the toll on his well-being after nearly two years of Zoom school at the dining room table was enormous, he said. Making art was a way to cope in the moment, to calm his frayed nerves and offer balance, as well as a way to reflect what he and his peers were going through.
“Being a minor through COVID and having all these memories being taken away from you, and you can’t really stop it, was really frustrating,” Hammond said. “It feels like a lot of adults don’t understand how hard it was for us teenagers going through online school. I know a lot of kids where their parents were really hard on them through this. And it was like, we’re trying to balance all this stuff while staying sane. Everyone kind of found their way of staying sane and I guess mine was art.”
Not surprisingly, the artworks on view at the fair are purposefully chaotic. They’re busy, abstract configurations, many of them created on the backs of Hammond’s discarded geometry homework — his least favorite subject. The works are bursting with ink and paint, some black and white, others rendered in saturated colors such as emerald green, vibrant yellow and burnt orange against a jet black background. They feature overlapping geometric shapes, scribbles or distorted human faces.
“There will be a lot of questions asking what I drew,” Hammond said, laughing.
“Basquiat is a huge inspiration,” he said. “You can see how he sees the world through his paintings. I really like the way he takes human faces and distorts them, kind of making it really weird and messed up. I love seeing those, like, hidden dark topics in the childlike work that he does.”
Hammond is no stranger to the limelight. On the one hand, he’s led a quiet suburban life from his dad’s home in Pasadena and his mother’s house in Glendale, the eldest of three siblings (he has a 5-year-old sister and 7-year-old brother). He loves skateboarding, visiting art museums and going on ramen and sushi excursions with friends. But he also spent several years as a voice-over actor for animation, as of 2017 — he voiced the character of Lincoln in Nickelodeon’s “The Loud House.” (His mother is Grey DeLisle-Griffin, who voiced Velma in the “Scooby-Doo” franchise.) He’s since given up acting and now focuses primarily on his art, a much earlier and more organic love, he said.
As far back as he can remember, Hammond said, he drew. But he hadn’t thought of himself as an artist, per se, in those “early days.” He fell in love with art-making through portraiture after experiencing a random burst of inspiration when he was around 10, during a trip to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art with his mother.
“I drew my mom sitting in the LACMA cafe area while we were eating pizza,” he said. “She loved it and I was really proud of myself. I posted it to a little art Instagram that I had just started and I just kind of kept posting drawings. I never got sick of it.”
Hammond paints in a garage-turned-studio at his mother’s house. As the exhibition title suggests, music is central to his process. He sees shapes when he listens to music, he said, and sometimes colors too. He’ll typically pair a song with a painting or drawing he’s working on, listening to it on repeat for hours.
“I really get it in my brain and it becomes way easier to kind of produce what I’m feeling,” he said.
If we’re being particular, Hammond is technically the second youngest artist ever to exhibit at the L.A. Art Show — second only to himself, last year. In July, at a pared-back iteration of the show due to COVID, Hammond exhibited 21 works. All of them sold. His patrons were a mix of people he knew, such as a friend’s mom, and strangers like art collectors who had traveled from as far as New York City.
Hammond earned just over $20,000 at the July fair. So what did he do with the funds?
First things first: He paid his mother back for the framing of the works. About 6% of the proceeds from the show went to the nonprofit Miles4Migrants; most of the money went into his savings. This year, a portion of the proceeds will go to the arts education nonprofit P.S. Arts.
“But I tried to treat my friends with presents, get everybody food,” he said of last year’s profits. “They’re my friends and I love them. If I didn’t have them through quarantine, it would have been a mess.”
Hammond now is toying with the idea of art school after high school, but he isn’t sure yet. He and his best friend, Harrison, have plans to move to New York when he’s 18 and “and see where we go from there. I’m definitely gonna figure it out as I go along in life.”
In the meantime, art grounds him. The pandemic has been “a lot,” Hammond said, but he’s OK — not only healing but thriving creatively.
“I kind of saw what the real world is actually like,” he said, “and I think I just wanna bring it in my art. Because no matter how dark my art can be, after I’m done painting, I feel 100 times happier. Until I feel sad again. And then I paint again. That’s kind of what fuels it.”