Tom Hackney at the London Art Fair
Tom Hackney, Chess Painting No.30 (Duchamp vs. Folkmann, correspondence game, 1933) Oil on linen, oak frame. 32 x 32cm
Tom Hackney talks about the processes and influences behind his work.
Lesley Guy: Why chess?
Tom Hackney: The chess paintings came together from several sources – firstly, I played a lot of chess as a child and a sense of the game - a characteristic logic - remains and can be used as perspective to think about all sorts of other things. Secondly, during my time at Goldsmiths I was becoming more aware of a strategic approach to art making and art discourse, and thirdly from a fascination with Duchamp, especially with his ‘renouncement’ of art for chess – a move I think about specifically in terms of the challenge posed to painting by non-retinal approaches to art.
LG: Are these real games that Duchamp played? If so, how did you get hold of the transcripts?
TH: Yes, the games were all originally played by Duchamp. As a serious player, Duchamp recorded many of his games by notation, as is common practice, to be studied later and reviewed to see how the game took its course. These notations have since been assimilated into various online databases, books and articles which I have researched and collected as source material for the paintings.
LG: How do you translate a game of chess onto canvas, is it as simple as painting in the moves?
TH: Largely, yes – the path of each move is painted sequentially in white or black gesso, resulting in an automatic, extruded composition of many layers. With these paintings, the decisions are made a priori - by the time the paint is on the brush the paintings have already been determined.
LG: What role is colour playing in the more recent paintings?
TH: The colour chess paintings are a variation based on Duchamp’s design for a colour chess set mentioned in a letter he wrote in 1920, where Duchamp assigned colours to the different pieces in relation to their movement and strategic power. The resulting paintings locate themselves more emphatically within a tradition of abstract painting but without taking a typical route to their form.
LG: The paintings really work on an aesthetic level, without the viewer having to know very much about the way a game of chess is played. Why do you think this is?
TH: I think the aesthetic of this work resides in an overall form. We all have an awareness of chess to a lesser or greater extent, and the same can be said for painting. Perhaps in this work both elements can balance each other, without prioritising painting over chess or form over content? A chess Grandmaster or experienced player might have the means to access or interpret the content like a needle can transform the grooves on a record into sound - similarly, an art historian might take a more specific approach to the context of the material.
LG: Where do you see these paintings fitting in with art history, in particular the history of abstraction?
TH: I think these paintings inhabit and dramatise historical forms and material, so in a way I see how art history fits into them rather than how they might be located in relation to other movements and histories.
Further reading about Tom's work and its relationship to chess.