Jack Drummer was an intentionally and aggressively hard-to-place artist. Craft artist, painter, sculptor fail as descriptions for his work. Abstract and minimalist are close as ways to define him, but in those crowds he remains an outlier – incredibly knowledgeable of his cohorts but never an impersonator.
Part of a group of artists in the 1950s and 1960s, he took direction from no one. Informed by the artistic work around him, rather than assimilate or allow his work to be defined as reactionary, he developed work from an emotional core and let material be his partner. He created objects from rubber, steel and dyes, working from the resources that industrial production left at his door step. The great accomplishment in his work was the ability to return from these harsh elements to an incredibly human place.
An artist with a broad range of friends and contemporaries, his work and intention was long debated by others, more so than himself. The great mythic story that sums up a limited understanding of Drummer’s thoughts about art, and the world in general, is mostly hearsay but follows as: In a 1962 exhibition at the Gordon Gallery, a rave review of Drummer’s work in the New York Times suggested that his work “…contributes to an environment that expresses and indeed orchestrates a single theme, the effects of time” and “Intelligence and imagination are not usually so profitably fused.” This resulted in Drummer walking into a bar in Manhattan – tended by a friend from Buffalo – saying, “If it is this easy in this town, I don’t want any part of it.” He then relocated to Hawaii, as far from the attention as one could get.
Whether true or just another “A man walks into a bar…” story, the sentiment expressed about Drummer’s work in 1962, and the few exhibitions that followed throughout his life, is important. When artists inspire us to dwell in the kind of emotional space that Drummer created, we should honor those opportunities and be thankful that, through their work, we can know the essence of being human.