John E. (aka “Jack”) Drummer (1935-2013) was an itinerant and mercurial figure. Self-taught as an artist, his earliest works from the late 1950s and early 1960s were included in several key exhibitions in Buffalo and New York City, including the first of Allan Kaprow’s legendary ‘New Forms, New Media’ exhibitions that he curated for Martha Jackson’s gallery in 1960. Drummer’s 1962 solo exhibition at the Gordon Gallery, New York received a rapturous review from critic Brian O’Doherty in The New York Times, who praised Drummer for his ability to “make something out of nothing”, describing his work from this time as “screens for the imagination,” a notion that could equally be applied to his later works on view at White Columns in a 2017 solo exhibition. Despite this early success, Drummer would soon leave New York City, returning initially to Buffalo, before moving to New Orleans and then California, before eventually settling in Hawaii. Very little of Drummer’s early work has survived, including almost none of the 300-odd, often large-scale, styrofoam-based sculptures he produced in Hawaii.
On returning to his home-town of Buffalo in the early 1980s, Drummer would embark on an extraordinary body of work that would preoccupy him for the next two decades. Drummer’s late work is clearly related to, and expands upon, the histories of minimal, post-minimal and process-orientated art. His approach is empathetic with that of the Italian Arte Povera artists, sharing their interest and investment in ‘poor’ and quotidian materials. Working almost exclusively with ‘found’ materials, and specifically materials that had previously been employed and subsequently discarded in industrial and manufacturing processes, Drummer’s work of the 1980s-early 2000s was largely overlooked and unexhibited during his lifetime.
Drummer’s late works employ the rubber ‘blankets’ – used in offset printing to remove excess ink during the printing process – as supports. These ‘ready-made’ supports often revealed aspects of their ‘histories’: their surfaces are typically marked with ghostly images and texts resulting from the printing process. Drummer would then work directly onto and into these ‘pre-prepared’ supports. Drummer’s late works often incorporate impressions taken directly from the surfaces of walls, floors, and fencing, etc. – ‘images’ created by laying the rubber sheets face down onto a desired surface, and then applying pressure from the back of the sheet to create a subsequent negative impression or image of that surface, likely a physically demanding process, akin to making a ‘brass rubbing’ or a monoprint. Drummer would then work into these surface-images, using a wide range of materials including dyes, tar, chalks; and processes like sanding and drawing to create tough yet lyrical works of an often unexpected beauty.*
*Adapted from a text by Matthew Higgs, Director/Chief Curator, White Columns, NY for a 2017 solo exhibition at White Columns