Theresa Hackett: Flipping the plane

Image from 1977 courtesy of the Artist

The PA based painter Theresa Hackett has been reflecting on landscape and environmental issues throughout her extensive body of work, Her paintings combine elements of drawing as well as different materials such as earth material and plastic. Altogether the process of coalescing all these elements is readily visible on the surface —the marks, bold shapes, vivid colors, texture— create landscapes resonating with vitality but also with an urgent sense of loss.

Tell me a bit about yourself and what brought you to painting.

I grew up in California and spent time near the ocean, surfing and sailing. At 20, I took a year-long trip to sail around the world, and got as far as the Panama Canal. That trip was a turning point. Nothing could match the extreme adventure of traveling through Central America in 1976. After that, I applied to the College of Creative Studies at UC-Santa Barbara, ready to commit myself to painting. I did not have a lot of knowledge about painting then, I just knew that, going forward, making art was how I would interpret my existence.

Color, line, shapes from nature, and observation — all these things became obsessions for me to study and make sense of. I began to experiment with materials. Surface and texture were essential for me. Each material has a threshold and suggests a direction that I follow, to push the parameters of what a painting is. I sculpt with paint and build with color. I refer to landscape as a place where I reference the self, a figure/ground relationship that plays with our physical being in relationship to painting and the environment that it exists in.

I was introduced to your work through your recent show at High Noon Gallery. Tell me about the genesis of the body of work you exhibited there and how do you see the relationship between painting and installation in that space?

I started working on aluminum panels because I needed a lighter, more manageable platform. I had completed a few and realized the blank side had potential. Before I knew it, I had recto-verso paintings. But the problem was how to display them. My brilliant friend Lisa Hein suggested a wire hanging apparatus. That changed the game. This body of work had many crossovers and connections, and some of the pieces took major leaps. Hanging these paintings resolved the visual problem I created. It allowed the viewer to walk through a labyrinth of visual material. The paintings could be viewed as individual paintings and experienced as an installation at the same time.When I have a show, I always consider the architectural space.  I find that making an environment for the work creates a more complex visual encounter.

Installation Shot High Noon Gallery, 2021, photo courtesy of Ray Manikowski

Geometric forms seem to play a central role throughout your work. What role does these drawing elements play for you and how do you see their relationship to your painting application (for example thin dry surfaces)?

I see congregations of structures as a broken-down grid that has been rounded out and rolled over. I recreate the weave, break-up the ground, flip the plane, all this to substitute the ordinary with the imaginary.

Geometric shapes that are just slightly off are what ground and animate the painting. They keep the content hovering between abstraction and some form of figuration.  Drawing is the sexy aspect that stimulates the eye, moving and undulating the line. Keeping the painting breathing, having passages of a dialectic dance, and punning with materials are all a part of the visual pleasure of solving some crazy painting problem.

It seems that you are referencing urgent environmental concerns in your work. For instance, in A Trail of Messages, you include earth material in your painting. What can you tell me about this piece and what is your approach to materials and process in your work?

Landfills, rocks, colliding and collapsing, mounds of colorful refuse, my subject matter clearly emphasizes a landscape that is deteriorating. They depict a loss, a mourning of what was, camouflaged in the language of painting.

In my material exploration, I started using Diatomaceous earth which is made from the fossilized remains of tiny, aquatic organisms called diatoms. When mixed with gesso it has a clay finish and can be sanded to a very polished surface. The surface absorbs the pigment, breaks down the plastic in the acrylic like silicate. The color resonates. I always had a passion for punning with materials; figure-ground, actual ground/earth and so forth. And I can’t approach landscape without acknowledging my environmental concerns, it has a way of surfacing and resurfacing, even if I bury it.

A Trail of Messages took me through many different psychological, problem solving, material-frenzied places. I attached clay pebbles, plastic that looked like glass, and drips that made the painting feel like it was raining or crying, I gathered worn bricks from the East River to place the leaning painting on. Strata, layers of surface, a wearing down of time, a form of weathering, an articulation of memory, are all in a Trail of Messages.

A Trail of Messages, 2018, Acrylic, iridescent pigment, Flashe paint, marker, PVA, clay, epoxy, diatomaceous earth on wood panel, bricks, 72” x 48”.

Tell me about We Can’t Stop Staring?

In We Can’t Stop Staring, the female harlequin takes the form of an ethereal entity that escapes from a crack in the wall where Humpty Dumpty had his great fall. Walls are symbols of loneliness; they divide and sever. There is always the other side, with borders, divisions, archeological ruins, and remnants of what once was.

My cartoon is a rounded, softer grid, everything fits together. The painting is hot, dripping with melting verticals. Every rock serves a purpose. These are some of the places my mind goes. There is really no imperative logic, just a need to paint.

After making so many fragile large paintings I decided to make something that I could fold or roll and then stretch later when I show the work. This painting is on an unprimed 9 x 12 foot drop cloth, the paint thin and stained. The surface retains an immediacy, and functions as a binary component and backdrop for the aluminum panels.

We Can’t Stop Staring, 2019, Flashe paint, acrylic, ink, iridescent pigment, marker on raw canvas, 108” x 144”.

What are you working on in your studio these days?

After 36 years of having a studio in Dumbo I moved all my work up to our house in Beach Lake, PA. I am trying to make a more sustainable studio practice for myself and Brooklyn just got too crowded. If you can’t park and unload, it is time to go. I am now building a very large studio that will allow me to work on painting installations. I am designing it and acting as my own general contractor. In the meantime, to keep my mind busy, I am making a series of blue drawings—on location in the woods. I bring the drawings back to the studio and take what geometric patterns and forms I find from nature and make wonderful, sensuous studies. I hope to show this body of work in a drawing installation soon.

Blue Drawing 1, 2021, color pencil, flashe paint, marker, on BFK paper. 24” x 18”.

All photo courtesy of the artist unless otherwise indicated