Interview with Tom Hackney – shortlisted artist for the 2012 Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London

This year’s Summer Exhibition at The Royal Academy of Arts will explore a range of printmaking practices with an emphasis placed on works of a moderate size, and will return to its traditional home in the Small Weston Room. The common ground between photography and painting will be investigated in one of the larger galleries and the meeting points between sculpture and architecture will also be considered.

Entry for the Summer Exhibition is still open, and the winning works will go on display from 10 June. Aesthetica spoke to Tom Hackney, one of the shortlisted artists from last year’s exhibition about his current projects.

A: You studied at Goldsmiths, how did that inform and shape your art?

TH: Goldsmiths was very influential. I went there to do the MFA in 2006 having come to the end of a body of work. It’s a rigorous and transformative place – an attritional environment where some aspects of your practice are worn back or break off, whilst others become tempered and refined. You share this process as part of a group and are exposed to lots of great ideas, material and artists. I think it’s important that you know your structures – how you work and what you connect to. Goldsmiths helped in giving me a greater understanding of this.

A: How did it feel to get your works exhibited at the RA?

TH: I was very pleased to have the chess paintings exhibited in the 2012 show. The exhibition co-ordinator Tess Jaray made a point of including works by younger and emergent artists alongside the more familiar and I think her efforts had a reinvigorating effect and made for a strong show. The Summer Exhibition is unique, historically and by its nature – the scope of the exhibition makes it almost impossible to exert any real thematic control and results in a nebulous randomness. The effect of this is that the works operate on an ostensibly formal basis, which leads to some strange conversations between works. I found this a revealing context and, combined with the natural light in the galleries, it gave me the opportunity to see the work in a new way.

A: You’ve been working on a series of chess paintings (2009-present). Can you tell me more about these?

TH: The idea for the chess paintings came out of my time at Goldsmiths, partly as a reflection on the strategic language applied in art discourse. I was also interested in Marcel Duchamp’s abandonment of art for chess – a ‘move’ in itself and something viewed as a direct challenge to the whole enterprise of painting. These elements combined, paradoxically, opened up a space for painting. Both activities (chess & painting) share an oscillation between the arenas of the eye and of the mind. The paintings are based on transcriptions of games played by Duchamp, the path of each move painted in sequence in white or black gesso.

A: What do you have planned for the future?

TH: I’m showing some chess paintings in PLURAL, a group exhibition with Breese Little in March, and then again in an exhibition of abstract painting at Galerie Ambacher Contemporary in Munich. In the studio I’m also making a series of works on paper, which is working out as another thinking space

A: What is the starting point for one of your works?

TH: The starting point is often a reflection on a previous work. There is usually left an open question or insight, technical, formal or theoretical, to be addressed.

A: You use geometrics quite a bit, why is that?

TH: Geometry often operates as a kind of syntax, or as simple structural vessel. I’ve always used grids as a transcriptional vehicle and a structural basis for thoughts and ideas. I feel it can also have neutrality which enables other elements and expressions to come to the fore.

A: What inspires you?

TH: At the moment, the exchange between making and thinking – thinking inspired by making and making inspired by thinking.

A: If you could collaborate with any artist (dead or alive) who would it be?

TH: Some of my work seeks to have quite a specific conversation with other artists or artworks, so it can feel like a degree of collaboration is already taking place. A game of chess with Duchamp in 1920’s Paris would be my choice.

Summer Exhibition, 10 June until 18 August, Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BD.

Credit: Chess Painting No.23 (Duchamp vs. Kahn, Paris, 1924), Tom Hackney, 2012. Image courtesy Royal Academy of Arts and Tom Hackney.