Cyril Hamersma - Artist

Cyril Hamersma - Artist
Hamersma - Artist at Work

Cyril Hamersma - Artist - 1919 to 1994

Also a prolific writer and inventor . . .
Born 1919, London
Painted from an early age
Served in Royal Army Medical
Corps 1939-45
Taught art to fellow prisoners in Stalag VIIIB
Caring jobs
throughout his life to make ends meet
Married and with four daughters
Died 1994, Essex
This man could paint. See his self-portraits: 1965, 1983, 1992. See his landscapes, 'The Cornfield' and his nudes. He also understood the value of abstract art in touching people's awareness and he conveyed ideas through images which provoked enlightenment, pleasure and emotion in the viewers. Hamersma’s artwork regularly focused on the simple things in life: a juicy red apple; a welcoming pot of tea; a freshly fried egg – the basics of which he was, along with many thousands of men, deprived for four years as a prisoner of war in Germany in World War II. Abstract explorations were similarly derivative. He was fascinated by ‘the line’ in art. Where does one object finish and another begin, when you look at them as a two dimensional image? And every object is made up of cells, minuscule cells invisible to the naked eye but Hamersma exploded ideas and looked further into them, painting and drawing ‘cells’; images made up of cells; ‘metaphysical cell structures’ which led him to invent the Squircle. It was his Squircle work that became the pinnacle. “The Squircle is Art, Science and Religion – together in one image,” he said in January 1994. “Light invites everyone to join the fight against the darkness. Our hearts and eyes are drawn together to eliminate and squeeze,” he wrote in March 1994

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

A Very Early Hamersma Painting

This beautiful oil painting is almost undoubtedly a Hamersma picture. It was found in a charity shop where its owner fell in love with it and contacted me for verification.
At first sight it looks far too conventional to be a Hamersma picture but as a family we know that as a young artist struggling to make ends meet, Hamersma painted 'Chocolate Box Pictures' and literally sold them to companies that produced elaborately illustrated boxes of chocolate. I am talking about the 1950s or earlier.

The colours have lost their lustre somewhat because of age and probably dirt and nicotine but the thickness of paint and number of colours used are typical of Hamersma's pictures.

As every artist knows, it's quite hard to make your signature look 'normal' when painting it and Hamersma was renowned for not signing but if he did I believe this is pretty close to how it would look in the early days.

It is possible there's a painting (or a bit of one) underneath the one you see because Hamersma would re-use a board if he was short of money to buy another (and this is most probable). Sometimes this accounted for the thickness of paint - although he did love thick paint in all its wonderful colours!

Saturday, 3 November 2012


We were recently contacted to be told that Metaphysical Cell Structure M No. 72 (a pen and ink drawing, a little smaller than A4, so titled because Hamersma hadn't yet invented the Squircle) is held in University of Leicester Museum. This is one of many held by various collections throughout the UK and Worldwide.

Monday, 29 October 2007


Now I Can Tell It in sketches and words by Cyril HamersmaA Prisoner of War Remembers Stalag VIIIB 
This book was published on 3rd September 2006

In 1939 a young man, who'd lived a sheltered life, was called up to serve for his country. A minor health problem had prevented Hamersma from attaining the education he deserved; and anyway, his youth was spent in the years of The Depression. Nobody of his age had experienced the world. Traveling to 'the Holy Land' and Greece, seeing the sights we now regard as tourist spots, learning the ways of the world; it was exciting and stimulating. Hamersma sketched at every possible moment, as a photographer records every nuance of a scene.

As an orderly in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) Hamersma witnessed the ravages of war first-hand. Yet within months, he and many thousands of troops were captured by the Germans and shuttled, in death-defying conditions, to Stalag VIIIB. It was four years before he could return home. At the time, of course, nobody knew when the war would end, if ever. Sketching and painting on any scrap of paper helped him and provided interest to his fellow prisoners but no artwork survived when they were all released.

For forty years he remained quiet and humble about his traumatic experience as a POW, but in 1984 he was able to express himself through recreating the drawings and sketches that had been so cruelly lost when the prisoners were liberated and the camp dismantled. Unable to keep all these new sketches he took photos to make into a slide show and he made a tape recording to accompany the slides.

This book puts all the material together so that - as Hamersma said was his reason for uncovering the painful memories - it may help others. ISBN 0 95444 659 3 This is a limited edition and all copies are now sold.

The publisher address for special requests is available by email. This publication, like all Writing Life® books, is a self-funding, non-profitmaking venture.

Softback, perfect bound. 150 pages. including approx. 80 exclusive colour images and 3 photos of Hamersma as a soldier. Contact Braintree District Museum - there might still be one for sale in their shop.

List of Owners (First 25)

1. James Baker, Art Collector, London W1
2. Peter Bailey, Writer, UK
3. Jean-Pierre Appel, Lutheran Pastor, Wisconsin, USA
4. Barbara. A Rope, Writer, Spain
5. The Family Budd, Van Gogh enthusiasts, UK
6. Emily Davies, Granddaughter, UK
7. Private
8. Theresa Le Flem, Daughter, Artist, Novelist, UK
9. Mr & Mrs P. Hillman, UK
10. Hilary Custance Green, Author, Cambridge UK
11. Bernie Ross, Daughter
12. Leon Ross & Emma Hogarth, Grandson & partner
13. Brian & Muriel Baker, Hamersma 'fans', UK
14. Imperial War Museum, London
15. Braintree District Museum
16. Braintree District Museum shop
17. Braintree District Museum shop
18. Mrs Jacqui North, long-standing friend of the family
19. Pam and Ron Wood
20. Legal Deposit Library
21. Legal Deposit Library
22. Legal Deposit Library
23. Legal Deposit Library
24. Legal Deposit Library
25. Legal Deposit Library

Sunday, 28 October 2007


Hamersma sold several paintings in the above style in the 1950s whilst living in London and exhibiting successfully in some London Galleries. He explored abstract art with pure colours and fine brushes but would never completely abandon his leanings toward abstract expressionism using broad strokes, collage and mixed media, as in the 'Green Woman' below.

Saturday, 27 October 2007


In 1960, after some years working as a barber in London, Hamersma moved with his wife and four young daughters to the country. He started his own Gents' Hairdressing Salon and displayed his artwork in the customers' waiting area.
1963: he sold the house in Sussex, notoriously gave up barbering and bought a smaller house in Essex where he pursued his art full time. His output and versatility increased.

By 1965 Hamersma secured a solo exhibition at Gallery 60 in Colchester where he sold several paintings and his resolve was strengthened.

After a short visit to Paris in the summer of 1966, Hamersma and family moved to St. Ives in Cornwall where his colourful abstracts and impressionistic work was shown in two exhibitions in the Penwith Gallery.
The climate was unsuitable for several reasons and in 1967 the family returned to Essex where Hamersma delighted in revisiting drawing and painting the local buildings, streets and countryside.

He created numerous woodcuts, painted portraits and caricatures of local workers and continued to experiment with colour, shape, light and design.

Friday, 26 October 2007


In 1970 Hamersma bought a Victorian house in Halstead, Essex and turned the front room - which faced the main road - into a Gallery. With white painted walls and spotlights he displayed his work for the general public to come in and browse. The space gave him freedom to experiment further with shape, shadow, colour and reflection.
Further house moves involved abandoning ideas and starting afresh: always an inspiration to him, new surroundings being like a fresh canvas and a palette of bright wet colours. Painting remained his first love.
Experimentation with collage perpetuated Hamersma's fascination with 'cell structures' and during the 1970s he took these ideas to some extraordinary depths.

The Metaphysical Cell Structure was the predecessor of the Squircle.

Thursday, 25 October 2007


Colours and ideas continued to fill Hamersma's head. He made every effort to visit new places, experiment with his recurring themes and introduce new angles on similar ideas.
Despite the appearance in the exhibits here, these paintings are called 'Metaphysical Cell Structures' - not Squircles, because he hadn't yet established their name.

This is the famous watertower for which Hamersma was laughed at on TV for proposing to decorate as a toadstool. He suggested it would be appropriate in commemorating the great botanist John Ray who was born near Braintree and whose work is charted in Braintree District Museum.

Nowadays, the watertower is incorporated into residential flats and Hamersma's canon of artwork is in safe-keeping, too, at Braintree District Museum.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007


Whatever he painted, Hamersma always returned to the concept of 'the line' in art and how light constantly squeezes through to bring 'cells' of brightness.

His studio and his numerous sketchbooks were littered with images of 'squircles' - like hugely magnified, impressionist or highly perfectionist paintings of the perfect shape.

Hamersma's health was failing him and it was more important to him than ever that his work should be seen far and wide. He shared his ideas and enthusiasm with schoolchildren and community groups; and - just as he'd drawn his surroundings when a prisoner of war - he sketched fellow patients in St Bartholomew's hospital in London whilst receiving treatment for kidney failure. The Guardian newspaper were pleased to allow him to 'Squirclise' their publication (they featured his ideas often when he sent proposals for art installations).

Hamersma is buried in Braintree, with his wife who outlived him for three years after having done as much as she could to ensure his artwork is in safe hands.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

After his Death

When Hamersma died, in 1994, he left a house full of 400 paintings, and many more sculptures, photos and drawings. Anyone whose parent was creative knows the importance of finding homes for the work after their death but with at least 20 of these pieces being 8’ x 4’ and most of the rest of them about half that size, very few relatives’ and friends’ households could accommodate even a single one. Even though he’d had dozens of exhibitions around the world during his life and donated works to the major galleries in many countries as well as the UK, nobody was prepared to take the collection of work; giving ‘lack of space’ or ‘strict selection criteria’ as their reason. The full story is detailed in ‘Hamersma: Inspired’ but the major works eventually went into safe keeping with Braintree District Museum.

After some years they commissioned a consultant to study the body of work and write a report. This confirmed what the family had been trying to convey: the Squircle Work and Hamersma’s abstract explorations are the enduring work and were abreast of – or many years ahead of - his contemporaries. Considering the man received no formal art training but was led by instinct and creative vigour, this is a great compliment.

In 2001 the museum put on an exhibition of Hamersma’s portraits alongside a grant-aided display of local artists’ portrait work. The ‘Faces’ are beautiful caricatures of famous people including members of parliament and pop stars. We displayed copies of letters he’d sent to his subjects and some he’d received back from them, wishing him well and commenting on his unusual interpretations of their features. Some of them were very entertaining! In 2002 the museum dedicated the whole exhibition space to Hamersma’s Kerbscapes, for which ‘Hamersma: Inspired with our Environment’ was written. Copies of this are still available through this website. [Please email.]

During his life Hamersma made it into the local and national newspapers interested in his work. He also appeared on local television a few times and made a short film with Channel 4 towards the end of his life. I have collected these together and created a short compilation that illustrates Cyril’s work, his personality, the way people responded to him (and sometimes provoked him): for copyright reasons it cannot be sold but is a family heirloom.

There is sure to be more of Hamersma’s work in existence than is recorded. Over his 75 years he sold or gave away many paintings and drawings, not to mention the hundreds that were destroyed during or after the war and not forgetting the many dramatic bonfires he created when ‘changing styles’, moving house or merely losing his temper with his art.

This painting of boats in Littlehampton Harbour came to light in 2010 when its owner found this website and made contact to say he bought it in 1960 when Hamersma used to cut his hair. He still treasures it and says the colours are as vivid as the day he bought it.

If you think you have a piece of Hamersma’s artwork in your possession, please get in touch.

Monday, 22 October 2007