Bill Ham was born in Greenville, Mississippi in 1932. He graduated from the University of Houston in 1954 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree. Following two years of military service and a sojourn in commercial “art”, he moved to San Francisco in 1959 and began a period of experimentation and studio work. For the next five years Bill worked with mixed media materials, concentrating on direct spontaneous (intuitive) techniques.
In the fall of 1964, he began working with light – electricity. He experimented with kinetic materials, and built a 4′ x 6′ light mural “programmed” to operate indefinitely. This piece was installed at the RED DOG SALOON in Virginia City, Nevada. “.. the first S.F. psychedelic light and rock ‘n roll show.” The main focus of his work, however, turned to the possibility of “painting” directly with projection. The transparent overhead projector provided a projection system uniquely suitable.
Working in his studio with live and recorded sound, Ham developed a technique of spontaneous projection painting (electric action painting) involving simultaneous composition – execution – and presentation. Ham’s utilization of electricity for the action painter’s method of spontaneous composition and execution, introduced several relatively revolutionary elements, including the final step in the abandonment of not only the easel, but the canvas as well. Electric action painting, true to nature itself, ceased to be a “frozen” moment or “finished” object, and became a series of uninterrupted projected imagery existing only during the time of projection. The “act” of painting and “the ” painting , now existed simultaneously. This unusual quality of momentariness and impermanence required a new painter – viewer relationship. Viewer “participation” for such a “present tense” art, suggested attendance not only for occasional public presentations, but during studio “sessions” as well. As one cannot rehearse spontaneity, the studio sessions have never been related to as “rehearsals”, rather as “shared” experience. Following months of studio work, in January, 1966, Ham presented three weeks of electric action painting performances in San Francisco. Assisted by Robert Fine with music by William Spencer and Oscar Daniels.