David Hammons was born in Springfield, Illinois on July 24, 1943. He moved to Los Angeles in 1962, attending CalArts from 1966-1968, and the Otis Art Institute from 1968-1972, where he was inspired by artists such as Bruce Nauman, John Baldessari, Charles White, and Chris Burden. In 1974, Hammons settled in New York City.
Over the past five decades, Hammons has created a versatile body of work that explores the experience of African-American life and the role of race within American society. He began his career in Los Angeles in the late 1960s, where he was influenced by the politically charged imagery of the Black Arts Movement, the found-object assemblages of Dada, and the humble materials of Arte Povera. His first notable work is his series of Body Prints done in the 1960s and ‘70s. Life-size representations of his own figure would be transferred to the support by coating his skin and hair with margarine and pressing his greased body onto the paper, then covering those sections with pigment powder. These images would be paired with politically charged symbols such as the American flag.
After his move to New York in the mid-1970s, Hammons disengaged from two-dimensional works, preferring to devote his practice entirely to sculptural assemblage, installation, and performance, in which he would employ provocative materials such as elephant dung, chicken parts, strands of hair, and bottles of cheap wine. Centered in the Black urban experience, Hammons often uses sarcasm and humor as a means of confronting the cultural stereotypes and racial issues at the core of his practice. In recent years, Hammons returned again to two-dimensions in series such as his Kool Aid drawings, which use the popular drink as a medium for mark-making, and the Basketball Drawings, which are composed through repeatedly bouncing a basketball covered with charcoal onto the paper. As in so many of Hammons' works, the title and physical object work together as a verbal and visual pun to generate meaning - in this case, an allusion to the unrealistic dream of basketball providing an escape from urban poverty, and encouragement for black youths to seek loftier goals than athletic prowess. In the 1980s, Hammons became known for his public sculptures and installations, such as the 1986 work “Higher Goals,” a group of five, 20-30 foot tall telephone poles topped with basketball hoops and covered in mosaics of discarded beer bottle caps.
Hammons was the recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship in July 1991. His work is collected by major public and private institutions internationally, among them: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge; Glenstone, Potomac; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; SMAK, Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Ghent; Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, Paris; Francois Pinault Foundation, Venice; and Tate Britain, London.
David Hammons currently lives and works in New York.