By Vee Sharp
In honor of Black History Month, RiverArts Chestertown is showcasing Black expression of all mediums in their exhibit “Merging Perspectives.” As part of the celebration, the gallery hosted “Circular Narratives,” a talk by artist, board member, and eastern shore local Kyle Hackett on Saturday, Feb. 4.
Hackett aimed to illustrate the trajectory of his work, beginning from his foundations and ending with his most recent works. According to Hackett, his biracial background and the Black community he grew up in was a major influence on his work.
“We grew up in a household where difference was on display every day,” said Hackett. “The power of difference really made an impact on how love was extended despite hardship.”
During his experience as a student at the University of Delaware, Hackett created the work “Portrait of Painting a Portrait Painting,” an exploration of the constructed space that he as an artist was making through which to experience the world.
“It’s conditional, setting up the walls around me as a think space, perhaps…in my world, that was often the only secure space I had,” said Hackett.
Hackett became fascinated with genre painting in Dutch and Flemish portraiture. According to Hackett, he related to the focus on interiors and everyday life within art, but was unable to relate to the activities and context.
“Could I make a space where my family could exist in there, or where I could exist?” said Hackett. “What activities would happen in the spaces that I know?”
Along with space, Hackett also became interested in the function of layers, inspired by the techniques used in these genre paintings, which involved layer of drawing, an underpainting of umber, a layer of grayscale, and finally color as the surface. According to Hackett, he became interested in how this strategy could work conceptually.
“Could I use that to talk about race?” said Hackett. “Class? Status? Could I use the structure of the painting to talk about hierarchy and institution?”
From there, Hackett attempted to create a life-sized face cast to convey the role of layers and facades in identity. Though the experiment was unsuccessful, Hackett found the experiment to be a stepping stone to future works.
According to Hackett, this experience lead to the concept of photographic portraits and the inherent objectification of the sitter. His work “Progress after Biddle” was a reflection on a daguerreotype of Civil War hero Nicholas Biddle, by extension an exploration of the power dynamics between the portrait sitter and photographer.
Confined to his studio during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown, and collaborating with activists through webinars in response to the police brutality enacted on George Floyd and others, Hackett became interested in performance within a digital space.
“Zoom became a stage,” Hackett said. “And we’re surrounded by boxes all the time.”
Hackett became interested in W.E.B. Du Bois’ idea of double consciousness, or seeing oneself in the eyes of others. According to Hackett, he largely thought of the psychological aspect of seeing oneself in a lens, of reacting to it.
“I think that [the self] is discursive… it’s only as limited as you are open to reinventing it,” said Hackett.
Hackett’s artworks “Interior Series: Brad,” “Interior Series: Cuz,” and “Interior Series Revisited: D-Hack” will be on display along with those of other local and regional Black artists through Feb. 25. The RiverArts Chestertown Gallery is open 11am to 4pm from Wednesday to Friday; 10am to 4pm on Saturday; and 11am to 3pm on Sunday.
Photo by Vee Sharp
Photo Caption: Kyle Hackett’s artwork is on display at RiverArts downtown until Feb. 25.