Surrealism artist Rex Hammack will graduate at next week’s fall commencement with a firm grasp of himself as a professional. He views his life as an artist much like he does a plain white canvas: an opportunity—limited only by his own imagination and talents—to make works of art.

“For me, art has always been about letting go of your preconceived notions of how things should work and just allowing the best of what’s possible to unfurl naturally,” says Hammack, who will earn a bachelor of fine arts in studio art from the School of Visual Arts and Design within the College of Arts and Humanities. “The creative process is about starting with nothing and creating something special. The best artistic experiences I’ve had have all happened when I simply let go of my personal plans and allowed myself to be completely in the moment with my work. So, my art is a lot like my life in that sense.”

Hammack uses traditional oil-painting techniques to create works of art that attempt to elicit subtle, subconscious reactions from the viewer.

Fascinated by the mechanics of the human mind, Hammack uses traditional oil-painting techniques to create works of art that attempt to elicit subtle, subconscious reactions from the viewer. His unique body of work integrates aspects of surrealism with internet memes and other forms of modern-day, humor.

UCF Professor Carla Rossi Poindexter has been a mentor to Hammack since he arrived at UCF in 2017. She will miss his presence in her advanced painting classes, but she looks forward to his success in the professional art world.

“There is no doubt that Rex Hammack will succeed as a nationally recognized contemporary painter in the not-too-distant future,” says Poindexter, who has taught at UCF since 2000. “Rex’s work is unique, intellectually enticing and emotionally provocative. As a student he has been a joy to work with, and I will personally miss his generosity and spirit of engaging conversation during class conversations and formal group critiques.”

With unpredictability being a goal at the start of every project, there is no such thing as a typical Rex Hammack painting. A Hammack painting may contain comedian Jim Carrey playing pingpong while petting an exorbitantly large black cat against the backdrop of a cartoonish collage. It may be a small-faced portrait—the eyes, nose and mouth purposefully drawn much smaller than the outlining face—of actor Tom Hanks. A painting may be a surrealist take on the cartoon character Nigel Thornberry from the popular cartoon The Wild Thornberrys, which was popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s during Hammack’s childhood. Hammack’s art features a wide variety of paintings that are completely open to the viewer’s interpretation of intent and meaning.

“I want people to have a quiet, personal conversation between themselves and my work. It is important to me that they look at each piece and come to their own conclusions of what my work means to them personally,” says Hammack. “I also want them to laugh sometimes, or at least chuckle a bit, and walk away with the same lighthearted feelings that I had while I was working on the painting.”

Hammack’s work has most recently been displayed at UCF’s Allegoria exhibition—the School of Visual Arts and Design’s Fall 2019 showcase of works from their graduating undergraduate fine arts majors—held at the UCF Art Gallery. The gallery hosts the exhibition at the conclusion of each fall and spring semester, and it attracts approximately 800-1,000 visitors each semester. In addition to the Allegoria exhibition, Hammack’s work has been featured at numerous other local venues, including CityArts, HENAO Contemporary Center, and Faith Arts Village Orlando, among others.

In 2016, Hammack was commissioned to craft a series of mushroom-themed murals at various Mellow Mushroom restaurants throughout Florida. Additionally, Hammack’s work has a growing social media following on Facebook, Instagram and Reddit.

Following commencement, Hammack plans to spend much of the next year traveling while continuing to focus on his artistic endeavors. He is currently exploring various artist-in-residence opportunities across the nation. Next fall, he plans to enroll in a yet-to-be-determined master of fine arts program on the West Coast, an area of the country where he hopes to settle permanently.

“I grew up in Orlando and I will always love Central Florida, but I want to spread my wings as much as possible, giving my work a wide audience and gaining visibility in the art world,” says Hammack. “Regardless of where I am physically, I’m going to continue to create art that is fascinating to me and makes me happy to look at.”

Becoming a contemporary artist has been a natural evolution for Hammack. Beginning in high school, doodling served as both a creative outlet as well as a means for dealing with the typical anxieties of adolescents. As his skill sets progressed, near daily doodling sessions produced more in-depth images in sketch books and eventually onto canvases.

With a drive to take his craft to the next level, Hammack pursued formal artistic instruction at UCF. Since coming to the University in 2017, he says his work has flourished under the tutelage of professors who have encouraged him to explore all aspects of his creativity.

“At UCF, I’ve been embraced fully as an artist, and I feel as though my creative freedoms have been both acknowledged and celebrated here. I’ve been given the opportunity to simply focus on learning the nuances of creating art and building a body of work,” says Hammack, who in addition to creating and displaying his work widely, aspires to be a visual arts professor at a major university. “In my time at UCF, I’ve felt both challenged and pushed, but I’ve never felt pressured in a disciplinary, parental-type of way. It has always been more like pairs of helpful, watchful eyes, guiding me along my way.”