Arthur Hammer was born in 1932 in Cleveland, Ohio. His father sold tires, and his mother was a stay-at-home mom. Hammer, outgoing and extroverted, felt like a misfit in Cleveland and moved to New York City at the age of 18 to pursue an acting career. In New York, he also drove a cab and landed roles in various soap operas, sitcoms, commercials, and made-for-TV movies such as Rage of Angels, which starred Jaclyn Smith.
A self-taught artist, Hammer started painting in his mid-20s after his mother gave him a set of paints and eventually gave up acting to make art full-time. He befriended artist Romare Bearden, when the two men had studios on Long Island City, admired the portraiture of Alice Neel, and went on to develop a bold and evocative style of his own. "Everything he did was big, bold, colorful, and upbeat," notes his daughter, Deirdre, who says her father "lived a very hopeful life and was always jazzed about his work. He was also quite a ladies man and a consummate storyteller, who had a story for everything."
Of this particular piece, Deirdre notes that El Martillo translates to hammer, and her father certainly felt a kinship to the famed idealism of Don Quixote: "My father fought against windmills his entire life. And he was always looking out for the underdog and sticking up for the little guy." Hammer passed away in 2012, after a 20-year struggle with prostate cancer. El Martillo and three additional Hammer pieces are in AVAM's permanent collection.